By John Strege
The last trophy Darren Clarke hoisted prior to Sunday was the claret jug, his Open Championship victory coming more than nine years ago. And though presumably one does not forget how to win, neither do they forget how to lose.
The thought crossed his mind when he double-bogeyed the ninth hole of the final round of the TimberTech Championship on Sunday, before he regrouped and closed out his maiden PGA Tour Champions victory with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th hole on the Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, Fla.
“Amazing,” the 52-year-old Northern Ireland native said of a one-stroke victory over Bernhard Langer and Jim Furyk. “It’s been a grind. It’s been hard work. These guys are really good. To actually get it done feels good.”
The negativity that often undermines players arose with that double bogey. A winner of 14 European Tour events (including a British Open and two World Golf Championship events), Clarke began wondering whether an inadvertent penalty in the second round on Saturday might ultimately lead to his downfall.
On the second hole on Saturday, Clarke marked his ball in the fairway and picked it up to clean it, thinking they were playing lift, clean and place as they had in the first round following torrential rain. It wasn’t, and he incurred a one-stroke penalty.
“Yeah, that certainly crossed my mind,” he said on Sunday, “but I seem to keep doing these stupid things. I’m in the cart and had hit that snap hook, my only real bad shot today, on No. 9, and thinking, you’re cruising again, but don’t do something stupid again.”
It was only a temporary setback. Clarke followed with consecutive birdies on 10 and 11 and played a bogey-free back nine. He finished with a four-under-par 68 and a 54-hole total of 17-under-par 199.
“My attitude was great,” he said regarding the manner in which he rebounded from the ninth hole setback. “I spoke last night with [sports psychologist] Dr. Bob Rotella, who I’ve been working with for a very long time. Doctor told me to hang in there and keep going and just accept what comes out. Sometimes we push and push too hard. Today it was just patience.”
Clarke and Langer, the defending champion and two-time winner of the event, were tied before Langer missed a par putt inside three feet at the 17th hole. Langer, playing in front of Clarke, regained a share of the lead with a two-putt birdie at 18.
But a perfect drive and a second shot to 25-feet of the hole on 18 left Clarke with a relatively simple two-putt to win, his first victory in this his 40th senior start.