Clarke wins for first time since losing wife to cancer
Darren Clarke is back. That was the message that was making its joyous way through the world of golf last night following the Ulsterman's dramatic triumph at the Asian Open in Shanghai.
A 40-footer for birdie on the final hole gave Clarke his first European Tour title in five years, although the date the majority in the game inevitably thought back to was his tragic loss on 13 August 2006.
That was the day his wife Heather finally succumbed in her long battle with cancer, and since then the journey back to the winner's enclosure has inevitably been as difficult as it has been emotional for the 39-year-old. During this time, Clarke not only had to come to terms with his own grief, but also perform the seemingly impossible balancing act of being a father to his two young boys with that of being a full-time professional golfer.
After making a spirited contribution to Europe's Ryder Cup victory in Dublin six weeks after his wife's death, Clarke watched his game fall apart and his world ranking slip accordingly. At the beginning of last week, the player once ranked No 4 found himself at No 236. This victory will see him leap up the standings when the updated rankings are released today and into the reckoning for a sixth successive Ryder Cup appearance in Kentucky in September.
Little wonder then that Clarke wore a huge smile when presented with the cheque for £190,000 at Pudong Golf Club yesterday. "This one is very special," he said, after winning the 11th European Tour title of his career. "This is the toughest win of all of them and it's nice to get back up to where I feel my golf should be. It was always going to be a difficult hurdle after Heather passed away. But to turn around and make a brilliant last putt to win feels pretty good."
Yet if that monstrous effort had not dropped to deny the Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen, Clarke's emotions would have been so different. With three holes to play Clarke was two strokes clear, but bogeys at the 16th and 17th allowed Derksen back in.
Clarke admitted that nerves had played an almost calamitous part. "My mind started going forward probably from about the 14th onwards," he said. "I lost my concentration and started thinking about Heather and the boys."
He was able to snap himself out of it, however, with a booming drive down the last and then came that putt. "Sometimes things are meant to happen, sometimes not," he said. "I guess today was my day. I was determined to get the putt up to the hole. I wasn't going to lag it up.
"It was tracking six foot out and sometimes it's meant to go in. My boys Tyrone and Conor would have liked that putt more than I did."
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