Darren Clarke hands back a battered Open trophy
DARREN Clarke admitted today as the rain hammered down at Royal Lytham that his golf game was not the only thing in need of some repair - so was the Claret Jug.
"It's not quite in as good a condition as I received it in," said the defending champion with a smile after handing over the trophy to Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson at the start of what is threatening to be a soggy Open Championship week.
"It's been here, there and everywhere, but Mr Dawson looked at it and said 'Oh, we can fix that, we can fix this'."
The 43-year-old Ulsterman, oldest winner of the title since Roberto de Vicenzo in 1967, was at pains to add, however, that he was not responsible for any of the dents.
"I didn't drop it. I shall say no more - it was nothing to do with me. But it's not that bad. It's fine. And I didn't really want to give it back obviously."
Right up to the minute of the handover Clarke, despite being known to like a drink or two, remained true to his word - unlike many of his predecessors nothing was poured into the trophy during the entire year of his reign.
"Not at any stage did I put any fluid in it at all. Nothing. It just is too special a trophy.
"I have so much respect for the Open Championship. I thought about it a few times, but I couldn't get myself to do it.
"I was tempted on the Sunday evening and the Monday evening and the Tuesday evening and the Wednesday evening - and for about two weeks afterwards.
"But I just thought 'No, I can't do it'. I don't need to have a jug to drink out of!"
Reminded that following his win in 2009 American Stewart Cink had even poured barbecue sauce in, Clarke answered: "I think everybody that's been fortunate to have their hands on the trophy have done different things with it.
"All I can really comment on is my point of view of it. I just decided that the trophy was too special for me to put anything into it."
He did add, though, that it has been a different story with the replica he was given to keep.
Trophy returned then, but Clarke still has a daily reminder of what he did at Sandwich - and did in some of the roughest weather to hit The Open in recent years.
"I'm in the champions' area of the locker room, which is very nice," said the Dungannon golfer.
Yet he then told the story of how he happened to be there as well all week last year.
"I got my locker and I was beside Mr (Tom) Watson and a few of the other guys. I couldn't quite figure out why and it was due to the late withdrawal of Greg Norman.
"Mr Dawson wondered who to put in there that won't offend anybody, so they stuck me in.
"Having won it, I've earned my place in that part of the locker room this time!"
Meanwhile, Clarke will go into his defence of the Open Championship 84th in the world after surviving only one halfway cut all year.
The Irishman's victory at Sandwich last July lifted him from 111th to 30th, but his dismal form since has seen him tumble down the rankings again.
Luke Donald is number one for the sixth major running, with Rory McIlroy second and Lee Westwood third. Last year in Kent Europeans filled the top four, but Martin Kaymer has fallen back to 15th.
Latest leading positions in the world golf rankings:
1 Luke Donald 9.55pts, 2 RORY McILROY 8.53, 3 Lee Westwood 7.97, 4 Tiger Woods 7.65, 5 Webb Simpson 6.54, 6 Bubba Watson 6.22, 7 Jason Dufner 5.83, 8 Matt Kuchar 5.64, 9 Justin Rose 5.54, 10 Hunter Mahan 5.21
11 Zach Johnson 5.15, 12 GRAEME McDOWELL 5.05, 13 Adam Scott 4.96, 14 Steve Stricker 4.86, 15 Martin Kaymer 4.62, 16 Phil Mickelson 4.60, 17 Dustin Johnson 4.57, 18 Louis Oosthuizen 4.36, 19 Charl Schwartzel 4.36, 20 Rickie Fowler 4.36
Other leading Europeans:
22 Francesco Molinari, 23 Sergio Garcia, 27 Peter Hanson, 28 Ian Poulter, 31 Paul Lawrie, 36 Nicolas Colsaerts, 37 Martin Laird, 38 Thomas Bjorn, 39 Carl Pettersson, 41 Fredrik Jacobson, 44 Alvaro Quiros, 45 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, 46 Rafael Cabrera Bello, 48 Simon Dyson, 52 Anders Hansen, 54 Robert Karlsson, 58 Marcel Siem, 59 PADRAIG HARRINGTON, 60 Robert Rock, 61 Jamie Donaldson, 64 Matteo Manassero, 69 Alexander Noren, 77 Paul Casey, 83 Miguel Angel Jimenez, 84 DARREN CLARKE, 90 Pablo Larrazabal, 91 Brian Davis, 94 Joost Luiten