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Page last updated at 12:40 GMT, Monday, 25 September 2006 13:40 UK

Ryder Cup: Darren Clarke's sporting victory

By Francis Keogh

Darren Clarke and Tiger Woods
Darren being here was inspiration itself

Tiger Woods on Darren Clarke

In all the champagne and Guinness-fuelled mayhem of Europe's raucous Ryder Cup celebrations, one moment stood out.

World number one Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of his generation but a serial loser with America in this team game, calmly embraced an emotional Darren Clarke.

Woods said little. He did not need to - no-one understands grief like the bereaved.

Northern Ireland's Clarke had helped his side to an 18½-9½ victory in only his second tournament since his wife, Heather, died of breast cancer six weeks ago.

After claiming his third win from three on Irish turf, the tears rolled in a remarkable echo of Woods' own triumph in the Open at Hoylake nine weeks earlier.

Then, the normally ice-cool American broke down after sealing his first major without his father Earl, who died in May, to celebrate with.

Woods had taken nine weeks out of the game to grieve himself, but had encouraged his friend Clarke to come back for the Ryder Cup with phone calls and text messages.

DARREN CLARKE PROFILE
European golfer Darren Clarke with the Ryder Cup
Age: 38
World ranking: 24
Ryder Cup caps: 5 (1997 winners, 1999, 2002 w,
2004 w, 2006 w)
Record: Won 10
Halved 3 Lost 7

Europe captain Ian Woosnam picked Clarke and his English pal Lee Westwood as his wildcard selections for the K Club, and they won both their fourball matches together.

"There was a time when I didn't think I would be able to play," the 38-year-old Clarke told BBC Sport afterwards.

"But I sat down and deliberated and weighed up the pros and cons and made my decision to play and I'm glad I stuck by it."

As the hugs rained in on golf's reluctant star to a backdrop of frenzied cheers, Clarke's father Godfrey, mother Hetty and sister Andrea wept alongside his caddie Billy Foster as they embraced each other.

"The 16th green was hugely emotional for me - Heather's up there somewhere looking down on us," said Clarke, the father of two young boys.

The big man from Dungannon beat US rookie Zach Johnson in Sunday's singles match, and his opponent's reaction said much for how this contest was played.

"Darren's a great player, but an even better person. Everybody is on his side and although I wanted to beat him, I have the utmost respect for him," said Johnson.

RYDER CUP BLOG
BBC Sport's Matt Slater at the K Club

In a year when sport's image has been badly bruised by stories of doping, fixing and bungs, golf has emerged with its dignity enhanced.

The Ryder Cup, once famed for its friendly competition, lost its way in the 1990s with unsavoury rivalries dubbed 'War on the Shore' and the 'Battle of Brookline'.

But Ireland's Paul McGinley showed how it can be done on Sunday, passing up the chance to seal a record triumph for Europe when he conceded a 25-foot putt to JJ Henry on the last green, and agreed a half.

It was a grand gesture by McGinley, who grew up near the course, and knew more than most what the whole occasion had meant to his team-mate Clarke.

Heather and Darren Clarke
Heather Clarke pictured with husband Darren in 2002

"Every time I think, it's hard to talk - Heather was such a great girl," said McGinley.

"We really miss her. Nobody would have been whooping and hollering more than her if she was here."

In defeat, the Americans showed a sporting streak.

Former US president Bill Clinton, who had flown in overnight to watch the finale, said: "I'm sure they're disappointed, but I'm proud of them.

"It's easy to stand around when you're winning, it's when you are losing, you need all the support you can get, so I just decided to be a fan in the crowd."

Losing captain Tom Lehman faces criticism at home, but won friends in Ireland with his generous approach.

"Professionally, as a team it's very disappointing, frustrating," he said.

"Personally, as human beings, there's a lot of great things that happened this week that I'll never forget for the rest of my life."

In a year of British sporting under-achievement, Clarke is now odds-on favourite to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in December.

"Everybody this week has been unbelievably kind to me and sympathetic. The American team and their wives as well, giving me hugs, which has been amazing," he said.

"I just wish Heather was here."

At the end, the European team wore pink blazers - in support of breast cancer research.

It was a fitting tribute on a day when golf produced many tears, but brought a smile back to sport.



see also
Clarke backs Europe for 2008 win
25 Sep 06 |  Golf
Tearful Clarke revels in triumph
24 Sep 06 |  Golf
Irish impact on the Ryder Cup
15 Sep 06 |  Golf
Europe clinch Ryder Cup hat-trick
24 Sep 06 |  Golf
Ryder Cup ratings
24 Sep 06 |  Golf
Woosnam savours Ryder Cup glory
25 Sep 06 |  Golf
The human Tiger
24 Jul 06 |  Golf


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