Darren Clarke knows that his mental strength will be tested to the limit when he takes a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Open.
The 42-year old Tyrone man put on a ball-striking clinic as he hit 16 greens in regulation in a one-under 69 to lead by the slimmest of margins from big hitting Dustin Johnson and by two from pal Thomas Bjorn and young gun Rickie Fowler.
He dreams of lifting the Claret Jug in his 20th Open appearance but knows that he must remain upbeat at all times or endure yet another major heartbreak.
Citing a quote from former Ryder Cup player Ken Brown, he said: “Brownie has been a friend of mine for a very long time, and he said to me before my first Ryder Cup in Valderrama in 1997, ‘Don’t let your golf game determine your attitude, let your attitude determine your golf game.’
“If my attitude is good, then the ball-striking is going to be good. If my attitude is not so good, then nothing is going to be any good. My attitude has been very good this week, and it’s shown in the way I’m hitting the ball.”
Clarke’s problem is that 16 players are within six shots of his five under par lead and while his critics have written him off many times as a major contender, he insisted that he has never doubted his ability to contend for his dream major win.
Set to challenge for what would be an incredible third major victory for Northern Ireland golfers in the space of 13 months, he said: “Did I doubt I would get myself back in this position? No. Did I know it was going to happen? No. Did I hope it was going to happen? Yes. But did I ever doubt? No.”
Asked how it felt to lead the Open going into the final round, he said: “Obviously I’m very excited about that. The Open is the biggest and best tournament in the world.
“Nineteen times I’ve failed to try and lift the Claret Jug, and tomorrow I have an opportunity.
“But at the moment it’s just an opportunity because the weather is going to be very windy again tomorrow, and there’s a long way to go still in this championship. But I’m very pleased to be leading going into the last round.”
While he was proud to see Rory McIlroy win the US Open last month, he didn’t need to see the youngster win to become inspired this week.
“I know we’re still competing against each other, but it’s a different era,” Clarke said. “Pleased for him, but inspired me, not really, no.”
Years of disappointment will be washed away if he wins but his sons Tyrone and Conor will watch the action on TV at home in Portrush.
They will be hoping their dad is a little more inspired on the greens than he was in any otherwise brilliant third round show.
A tally of 34 putts told its own story as gilt-edged chances slipped by the hole all day, especially inside five feet. But Clarke never let his head go down.
“I haven’t always been able to stay patient whenever that’s the case, but I have been able to do it this week,” he said. “Spending time with Dr. Bob (Rotella) has helped me get back into that mind frame.”
He admitted that he’s been lucky with the weather so far and hopes the golfing gods remain on his side.
“Obviously if somebody had given me 69 before I was going out to play, I would have bitten their hand off for it,” he said. “Saying that, we did get very fortunate with the draw.
“Sometimes to win any tournament the draw can make a big difference, but in the Open Championship it makes a huge difference. We got very lucky. We started off in terrible conditions and then it sort of cleared up after four or five holes, so we got lucky with the weather again.
“But all in all, I couldn’t have hit the ball any better from tee to green. That was about as good as I could do from tee to green. On the green was not quite the same, to say the least, but from tee to green I was very pleased with the way I played.”