Eight years after being crowned Golfer of the Year, Darren Clarke is looking forward to a return to the links and a new set of challenges. The Northern Irishman celebrated his 50th birthday last year and has decided to take advantage of his eligibility for the senior tour.
He will be looking to add to his tally of 14 tournament wins, the last of which was his only major title, the Open Championship in 2011, when he tees off at Royal Lytham & St Annes in July.
Years might have gone by since that famous win, but it is one that is imprinted in the memories of every golf enthusiast. Wins had been few and far between for the man from Dungannon, and he dedicated the victory to his late wife, who had died of breast cancer five years earlier, aged just 39.
Clarke is looking forward to returning to a course on which he has performed well over the years. He spoke to "Golf Today" of how close he had come in 2001: “I remember being one behind on 17 and went with driver when I shouldn’t have. It cost me that time, but I have great memories there and I like the course.”
Who to back?
Clarke will be among many high-profile names teeing off in this year’s Senior Open, and this will be an event that captures the attention of the serious sports betting enthusiasts as well as more casual followers of the sport. These days, it is a simple matter to place a bet on what were once seen as fringe sports. Established names like Betsson provide the opportunity to bet on the latest Esports leagues that are being introduced on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as major tournaments and, of course, senior events too.
Clarke will be up against some familiar names, all of whom are still playing at a high standard. The 2018 winner Miguel Jiminez is among the early favorites, while veteran Bernhard Langer proved in 2017 that even in his 60s, he is still a force to be reckoned with in this major.
Other big names looking to roll back the years will include Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Tom Watson, Vijay Singh and Mark McNulty. There are also Clarke’s fellow new entrants to the over-50s club in Retief Goosen, Michael Campbell and Paul Lawrie, who will all be set to make their Senior Open debuts.
An historic venue
It has been 25 years since the Senior Open has taken place at Royal Lytham & St Annes, with the club having previously hosted the event four years running from 1991 to 1994. Bobby Verwey, John Fourie, Bob Charles and Tom Wargo were the winners respectively, meaning the course has never seen a European take up the Senior Claret Jug.
If recent form is anything to go by, that is set to change this year. The past three winners have all been European, with Paul Broadhurst having won in 2016 prior to Langer and Jiminez most recently. Clarke is eager for the trophy to remain in European hands, and is relishing the challenge ahead.
“Over the last few years, Miguel, Bernhard and Paul have played some superb golf to win the Senior Open Trophy," Clarke said, "and the number of guys who travel from around the world to play just shows how important the Senior Open is on our calendars.”