Clarke Gets His Moment.

Before Sunday Clarke Was Perhaps Best Known for His Emotional Run Through the '06 Ryder Cup.

Darren Clarke is about a decade removed from what looked as if it was going to be the prime of his career.  In the late 90s and early 2000s, Clarke was a top-ranked player, won multiple World Golf Championship events and appeared on the verge of winning a major.  The major didn’t come, and the last vivid memory most golf fans might have had of him on the golf course before this week was his performance in the 2006 Ryder Cup.  Playing a little more than a month after he lost his wife to breast cancer Clarke received a spine tingling ovation on the first tee on Friday and played brilliantly in a European romp.

It was a weekend that added to Clarke’s popularity and it probably can’t be overstated how popular a win this will be among Clarke’s peers.  If I was searching for an American comparison to Clarke, I might end up on Fred Couples.  Popular with the galleries, effortless natural talent, powerful and brilliant ball-strikers and about everyone’s favorite person to get in the draw.  Clarke has maintained an everyman persona through the years, puffing on cigarettes and finally eschewing the fitness trend.  Clarke rode the cheers of the galleries, an occasional good kick, and 72 holes of great ball-striking to win the event he cherished most on his twentieth try.

It was a wild Sunday morning that devolved slowly into a Clarke victory lap.  As the leaders were making the turn I was wondering if I was watching a historical performance from Phil Mickelson.  Phil was clinical for 10 holes, playing them in 6-under, and it easily could have been 8-under.  Considering the conditions, it appeared we might be seeing the kind of charge that Johnny Miller is constantly reminding people he made at Oakmont in ’73.  While many will point to Phil’s short misses on the green killing his momentum, I imagine Clarke’s eagle at the seventh hole was equally deflating.  Phil charges all the way to 5-under to finally tie for the lead only to immediately find himself two behind again.  Clarke was playing so well that it must have felt like one mistake would doom any challengers and after Phil made that first mistake he never got close again.

It was a pretty solid performance for the Americans, though.  The major championship drought has run to six, but the American players were the only ones offering Clarke much challenge.  Rickie Fowler secured his first top-5 in a major despite struggling to make putts all week.  Anthony Kim rose from the dead.  And of course, Dustin Johnson found another way to shoot himself in the foot in a major.  I don’t know how many more times Johnson can do this.  You’d have to assume he’ll either eventually break through or else collapse under the weight of his misses.  From the fairway at 14, to hit that ball out-of-bounds is almost inexplicable, and continues to raise questions about Johnson’s poise and focus under pressure.  You listen to the guy’s interviews and wonder if he’s spacing out more than choking.

All the mistakes from the American players and anyone else in contention were all magnified, because of Clarke’s steady brilliance.  He got a nice break missing a bunker on the 9th when Phil was applying the most pressure, but he was pretty much error-free on a very difficult course when it really mattered.  His ball-striking was superior and on Sunday he was rock solid on the 3 and 4 footers that Phil and Co. could not make.  The difficulty of the pin-placements and the severity of the golf course turned the Open into a ball-striking contest and Clarke was the man best suited for the job.  It was a deserved victory and one that will probably be celebrated lustily throughout Europe.

Other Quick Takeaways:

The crowning of Rory McIlroy and the funerals held for the Phil Mickelson generation were probably both premature. Mickelson showed he’s still a factor (I’d make him the favorite at Atlanta AC), a golfer in his 40s took the trophy, and Rory probably isn’t to be ready to be the World number one quite yet.

Speaking of the World Number One, Luke Donald missing the cut is a huge disappointment.  Especially his poor finish on Friday.  It’s more proof that Tiger had everyone spoiled and validated the rankings.  The rankings are far better at identifying the top-50 (in some order) than crowning a number 1 in an era of parity.

For all the complaints and worries about the course before the event, it appeared to be a proper and fair test.  The small adjustments made since 2003 were apparently enough to quiet the complaints of the field.

People have differing opinions on what is the best major.  About the only thing that seems to be consensus is that it is not the PGA.  I’m not going to call the Open Championship the best, but what I appreciate the most is that it most often takes distance out of the equation.  Obviously it always helps to have length, but the Open Championship courses seem to give the most options for players of varying length.  The premium is usually on hitting it solid rather than just hitting it as far as you can.

All right, 3rd major of the year in the books.  They’ll be plenty of pressure on the Americans to end the drought, they’ll be interest in whether Tiger will tee it up, and Chubby Chandler’s boys will be trying to make it 4 for 4.  Until next month…


22 thoughts on “Clarke Gets His Moment.

  1. I’m still confused how there’s out of bounds that isn’t water related on that course. Isn’t it a “true” golf course (womp womp)? To me, I took that to mean you play it where it lies at all times, unless you’re in the drink, similar to Ocean, where the beach is just considered a waste bunker. Flummoxed.

    Abby Wambach, welcome to suck-ville. Talk about someone not showing up in probably the biggest game of their career.

  2. Didn’t Wambach score the OT goal? I think you gotta blame the two young ladies who bungled up that play that led to the 1st Japan goal, don’t you?

    Regardless, the double buckle is very rare.

  3. I only saw the highlights but those suggested that Wambach scored the OT goal, scored on her PK opportunity, and ripped a vicious shot in the first half that would have been a goal but for hitting the crossbar. And the recaps on ESPN suggest that she was dropping way back and contributing substantially on defense too. It doesn’t seem like a case of not showing up to me.

  4. Wambach had one rip in the first half, yes. She also had several missed opps to put the game away in the first half (along with Rapinoe) and the game tying goal in OT (after she had given the US the lead) went off of her and in. This is completely ignoring that, in the OT and up a goal, morgan (maybe o’reilly) fed Wambach on her strong foot on the 6 and wambach was a complete mess with what should have been the goal to put it away. Going off memory, she completely flubbed it and i’m not even sure she got it on goal.The media is giving her a pass, but she absolutely did not play up to her standards. If you watched the game, you’d say Rapinoe, Morgan, O’Reilly, Lloyd were all more effective and outshone her. The other US “star” who i thought played well below standards was Hope Solo.

    All the forwards dropped back to help on D, that wasn’t anything special.

  5. Do we like the World Cup being decided by penalty kicks? I’m sure this discussion has been hashed over a billion times, but, it seems odd to me to do it that way.

    • This is what I don’t get.

      We didn’t complain when we beat China to win the World Cup. We didn’t complain when we beat Brazil.

      Some will say they didn’t like it at that time, but those opinions were few and far between and they were definitely not as loud as they are now.

      Now that we lost on penalty kicks the complaints are coming in from everywhere and it’s the hot topic today.

      It makes us look like the kid who played sports and had an execuse when he lost and ignored his luck when he won.

    • I don’t care one way or another whether its fair that we won or lost this way. I was just asking as a general matter whether you like penalty kicks as a way of deciding WC games.

  6. I think it’s one of those “there’s no better answer” scenarios. How long could you let them play? I guess the other option is the “golden goal”, which I prefer. Basically, you play OT until someone scores. That might become exhausting and tedious, but it’s probably a better measure of the skill levels/depths of the teams. One of the big issues for the US in PKs (outside totally missing the net) was that they’d gone to PKs against Brazil, so Japan knew who was taking for the US and knew the tendencies of the shooters. PKs are all about confidence and repetition, so you rarely see players switch it up in big moments. If they shoot lower right in one round, the most they’re likely to change is the height (lower to mid) but certainly not the side. That’s how the Japanese goalie was able to stop 2 of 3, b/c she knew where they were going and the US players didn’t put enough pace on the ball.

    • The only thing you can do is let them play until they die in the finals.

      You obviously need to cap it at some point before the finals to prevent teams from playing for hours before advancing to the next stage and being at a disadvantage.

      Then again it would be weird to have different rules for different stages.

      I can’t say Wambach choked. I put a lot of blame on the defense and some on Hope Solo. She looked lost on the corner kick and in PKs she got a hand on a shot, but couldn’t stop it. You touch it, you stop it.

  7. I’m fine with the PKs. It doesn’t necessarily seem fair, but we won and lost by them.

    Maybe the could shorten the OT to like 20 mins and then play sudden death.

    If you totally drain your team before the final–too f’in bad.

    I think we might underestimate the endurance they have too. I mean, you see a hockey game go 4 OTs in the playoffs and they come back after one day.

    You’re telling me they can’t play 150 minutes on Weds and get back for Sunday?

    • The only problem is that in soccer you only get a couple substitutions per game and a team could play for a couple hours in the quarterfinals and do it again in the semifinals.

      In hockey you have shifts going on throughout the game and breaks between periods. And since it’s a series both teams are going to be “hurt” equally by the length of the previous game. In soccer one team would be fresher.

      • I’d argue that hockey is equally tiring despite the shifts. or at least proportional to the type of training they do.

        and, maybe for that series the impact is equal, but what about if it was game 7? there could be a next series.

        and, like I said, if one team is good enough to win their semi-final in 90 minutes, but you blow chances all night (or use a desperate defensive tactic just to hang in) and end up playing 140 minutes, I think you deserve to be at a disadvantage.

  8. Why not skip the overtime and go straight to the sudden death / golden goal scenario? I agree with 3PT on the endurance issue. You want to play for the world cup, you might as well be prepared to play 200 minutes of soccer if that’s what it takes.

  9. I think they used to do that, just go straight to golden goal, but I’d have to go back and look.

    I can see people defending Wambach b/c she scored, but i think overall it was a weak performance from her. She didn’t capitalize on her chances to make a difference in the box, which is what she’s there for. If you watched and asked yourself to name the 5 players who you noticed most, is Wambach number 1, 2 or 3? I wouldn’t think so, I think you probably noticed Rapinoe, Morgan, O’reilly and probably even kreiger/cheney more.

    I also thought Solo blew it a few times by not being more aggressive to take the ball and also in communication with her own players.

  10. Maybe this blog needs a separate women’s soccer thread? I had no idea women’s soccer had gotten so big? I might have to capitalize and put my Brandi chastain game worn jersey on eBay…

  11. People are fair weather soccer commenters. I bring it up a couple weeks ago and no one says peep. Then, we mega-buckle and everyone is watching.

    In regards to Wambach, you’re saying she doesn’t make a difference in the box? Interesting.

    But seriously, didn’t she kind of have them on her back through the earlier rounds? (anecdotal)

    • I’m saying in this game she didn’t make as much of a difference in the box as she could have. And in fact they referenced several times how the Japanese chick had done a great job of neutralizing her. Point is, when you’re supposed to be the best “header” in the game and you have 3 chances in the air to score from the 6, you need to finish more than one.

      She played well after the loss to the Swedes, yes.

  12. Also, I think aside from it being “us” losing this time, I think it was pretty clear that the US had played better and was the better team.

    If you are going to lose in that scenario, you’d like to lose actually playing soccer, go ahead and finish the choke on the field rather than through penalty kicks.

    Perhaps the real conclusion is, this is why you don’t watch soccer.

  13. I’m going to go ahead and trot out all the silly examples, like ending a Stanley Cup finals with a shootout, or ending an NBA Finals game with a free-throw competititon, or ending a World Series game with an OBP competition to see who can correctly read the most balls from the pitching machine. Or even something utterly ridiculous like having a football game where you line each team up on the 25 yard line and alternate possessions until someone scores more times than the other team, and also, these scores count the same as the scoring done during the regular time.

    Since this was actually a golf post, what is the most satisfying golf playoff format?

  14. This is a golf post?

    For me, the most satisfying form of playoff is probably 3 or 4 holes. I like 18 holes, but I understand why that doesn’t make a lot of sense for a number of reasons.

    That said, if the US Open ever stopped doing the 18 hole playoff I’d probably throw a fit. There is potential for it to be awful if there is a blowout, but there is the potential for it to be awesome too, like Rocco and Tiger.

    Sudden death I don’t like because it puts too much emphasis on one shot after they’ve both hit around 270, and you can get into a rut playing the same holes over and over. If they keep playing 18 and it’s just a par hole, I think that’s stupid.

  15. I thought Dustin Johnson was going to give Clarke a real run for his money until that shot on the 14th. After 9 holes on Sunday it looked like there was going to be a big challenge from the US players until they fell away.

    Oh and by the way it is out of bounds to the right of the 14th as that is another golf course, Princes Golf Club.

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