Inspired by a wartime quote by Winston Churchill, Darren Clarke emerged from the wilderness to claim his 13th European Tour title at the Iberdrola Open on a windy final day at Pula Golf Club in Mallorca.
“Never give in,” the English statesman told the boys of Harrow School in 1941 as the threat of Nazi Germany loomed large. “Never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
A tad dramatic where golf is concerned but it served Clarke well on a difficult day as he came from four strokes behind stablemate Chris Wood to card a one under par 69 and win by three for his first victory since the 2008 KLM Open.
“This is a monkey off my back after three years without winning,” Clarke said. “I have had a few chances and spurned them but today I just ground it out. Things are coming back in place. This is a stepping stone for me.”
As an added bonus, he also leapt 36 places to 88th in the world.
The 42-year old was one of just eight players to break par in the final round as he left Wood and David Lynn to pick up the runner-up money. Naturally he was delighted with his win after getting so frustrated was he by his lack of progress in the game that he put away his clubs after the Hassan Trophy at the start of April and took a three-week holiday in the Bahamas to re-group.
Chasing his maiden tour win, Wood slipped to a disappointing 76 as Clarke’s experience proved crucial on a day when minimising mistakes was at a premium.
“It feels pretty good. I got so down after my weekend in Morocco where I played poorly,” said Clarke. “I went on holiday with the kids and then worked on a few things. I feel for Woody, he was trying to win his first tournament. Things went for me.”
Playing with Jose Maria Olazabal in the final round of a Spanish event meant that Seve Ballesteros, whose funeral took place on Wednesday, was never far from Clarke’s thoughts.
“We wouldn’t be here without him, simple as that,” Clarke said. “The European Tour would not be in the position it is today without Seve … he was the first man to do so many things and make so many breakthroughs. So, to win in his homeland in the week he has passed away is a real honour.”
The Ulsterman reduced Wood’s overnight advantage to one within three holes, but while a double bogey after finding water at the 11th looked to have cost him his chance of victory there were more twists and turns to come.
Wood unravelled somewhat on the back nine – three-putting the 12th and 13th and driving out of bounds at the 15th. Despite coming within millimetres of a hole in one at the par three 18th, the damage had already been done as he came home in 40.
Clarke recovered brilliantly from his double on the 11th with a brace of birdies, holing a putt from the fringe at the 14th, nailing his approach to six feet at the 15th, saving par on the 16th with a brilliant approach from a fairway bunker and then holing another putt from off the green to scramble par at the next.
Needless to say, his determination not to give in was the key to his win.
“I have been doing an awful lot of reading of late and I went out today with a quote in my head which was ‘Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never’,” said Clarke. “It was a quote used by Winston Churchill and no matter what happened today, I was never going to give in.
“I said that to myself when I made a double on 11 but then I had two great up-and-down’s after that. So it feels good right now to win again. It’s been three years since I last won.”
Clarke earned €166,660 to jump from 92nd to 35th on the Race to Dubai money list and take his season’s earnings to €261,380 with Bray’s John Mulrooney on the bag.
Shane Lowry’s bid for first pro career victory looked to have ended when he started bogey, double bogey at the first two holes. But while the Esker Hills star birdied the sixth, seventh, eighth and 10th to get back into the mix, he frittered away too many shots down the stretch.
Playing with Wood in the last group, he followed Clarke into the water at 11 for a double bogey and then bogeyed the 12th, 15th and 16th holes for a 74 to finish in a share of fifth on one under par.
Damien McGrane carded a 70 to tie for ninth on level par with Newcastle’s Simon Thornton tied for 16th on three over after a 74.