When Darren Clarke won the 2011 Open Championship he never imagined it would take him another 17 months to record his next top 10 finish.
But after 518 days of trials and tribulations, missed cuts and frustrations, the 44-year old Dungannon man finished tied for eighth in the Australian PGA Championship to bring the curtain down on one of the most frustrating periods of his career.
The 2013 season will begin for him in South Africa in a few weeks time before the European Tour’s Tournament Players Committee sits down to debate whether he, or Dubliner Paul McGinley, will captain the European team in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
It could be a close run thing, given the clear wishes of the majority of the current crop of Ryder Cup stars to see McGinley take the reins with Clarke waiting until the matches are played in the US in 2016.
And given his play at Coolum over the past week and his recent return to form, Clarke himself may well believe that there is still an outside chance that he could make the 2014 team as a player.
It’s a long shot but after firing rounds of 70, 69, 72 and 68, his nine under par total was good enough to clinch an eight-way share of eighth place behind shock winner Daniel Popovic.
Clarke, who has fallen from 30th in the world rankings after Royal St George’s to 140th at the start of the week,certainly made a fast start to his final round by going five under after five holes thanks to a birdie at the first, an eagle three at the third and further birdies at the fourth and fifth.
He bogeyed the ninth and then parred his way home before heading for the airport and a Christmas break that will see him put his feet up until the Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club from January 10-13.
As for Popovic, he was world No 1,251 before the start and entered for the qualifying school in Australia but has now set his sights on winning a major after dedicating his 400-1 victory to his father, who has terminal cancer.
“My goal with golf is to win a major championship. I don’t feel it’s that far off,” said Popovic after a closing with a three-under-par 69 for a four-shot win over faltering Rod Pampling, who dropped four shots over the last three holes to tie for second with Anthony Brown on 12 under at the Palmer Coolum resort.
“Next year is going to be completely different to what I had planned two weeks ago,” said Popovic, ranked 1,251st in the world after finishing tied for 62nd at the Emirates Australian Open last week.
“For him this is going to be everything, I cant wait to give him a big bear-hug. Two weeks ago I entered Q-School for next year for Australia and was thinking I would just play one tour because of my fathers’ illness, but now next year is just going to be bigger and better and hopefully he keeps pushing on as well.”
Geoff Ogilvy (67-69-72-69) finished tied for fourth on 11 under with Brad Kennedy.
Peter Senior’s closing round of 77 was enough to secure him his fourth Order of Merit title and a start in next year’s Open Championship at Muirfield.
As for the row between Coolum Resort owner Clive Palmer and the Australian PGA, Phil Lutton in the Sydney Morning Post reports that the billionaire owner has put in an offer to bring the event back to the Gold Coast.
However, Palmer is confident the impasse is over and the event, which has been held at the former Hyatt resort (now owned by Palmer) for 11 years, will not be moving, contrary to earlier statements by the PGA’s chief executive, Brian Thorburn.
”I’m very confident the PGA will be here for the next five years,” he said. ”I’m sure that will be the case. I’m sure the PGA knows that, too. I’m sure the PGA board knows this is a great place for the players, a great place for the whole tournament, and where else can you go? Sure, there have been changes. And change is a good thing.
”We have Jeff the dinosaur. He’s been all around the world. And isn’t that good for golf? Maybe golf has been a little bit mundane. By having a dinosaur here, we’ve created more interest in golf. That’s not a bad thing.
”They should come here and stay here because of the merits of the place. We’re offering them a lot more than any other golf course in Australia. I’m sure they’ll be here.”
For the billionaire mining magnate, it is partly a case of ask not what he can do for the PGA, but what the PGA can do for his Sunshine Coast resort, which he also is turning into a dinosaur theme park and which is the spiritual home of Titanic II, his planned full-size replica of the famous liner.
Palmer Resort Coolum hosts the event but, unlike the former owners Hyatt, the tycoon has stopped short of dipping into his pocket to double as a principal sponsor.
That has been one of several sticking points but a revised offer has been made to the PGA, which will be considered at next week’s board meeting.
”I’ve obviously heard Clive’s comments … and it’s great that he is so passionate about golf and the Australian PGA Championship. I can confirm that late yesterday [Friday] Palmer Coolum Resort submitted a revised offer to continue hosting the tournament beyond this year,” Thorburn said.
”It goes without saying that we are committed to achieving the best possible outcome for the tournament and our players, and the resort’s offer will be considered by our board next Wednesday.”