He’s a Major champion, has 22 professional titles to his name and is one of the greatest Irishman to play the game, but Darren Clarke’s biggest test of his career is just mere days away.
The 48-year-old is preparing to lead out Europe against the USA in arguably the biggest competition in golf – the Ryder Cup.
His every decision, his body language and every word at press conferences will be under scrutiny as he aims to fend off a resurgent USA at Hazeltine and clinch a fourth successive victory for Europe.
But if Clarke’s illustrious career is anything to go by then Europe will be led by a tenacious and meticulous fighter who will get the most of his talented stars.
So as the stalwart of the European Tour looks to add another successful paragraph to his golfing CV at Hazeltine, we take a look back at some of the greatest moments of his career so far.
5. A hat-trick of English Open titles
Yes, the English Open, not to be confused with The Open Championship. Clarke became the first player to claim a hat-trick of English Open titles with his victory in 2002, which currently makes him the last player to win the competition as it has’t been held since.
He won back-to-back crowns in 1999 and 2000 before adding his third in 2002 to go one better than Mark James’s two wins.
4. Clarke shoots 60 for the second time
Clarke’s name is inscribed in the European Tour history books for another record, this time becoming the first player on the tour to shoot 60 for a second time. The feat was achieved in the second round of the 1999 European Open at The K Club. However, he finished as runner-up, three strokes behind Lee Westood.
He first shot 60 at the 1992 European Monte Carlo Open. Again, this would be the last time the tournament was held. Spooky…
3. On top of the World
Considered by many to be ranked just below the Major championships in terms of significance, the World Golf Championships are big and Clarke has two of them. In fact, in 2003 he became the first player after Tiger Woods (who has an incredible 18 victories) to capture more than one World Golf Championship title.
The World Golf Championships are a group of four annual events – the WGC-Cadillac Championship, WGC-Dell Match Play, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and WGC-HSBC Champions – and are official money events on the PGA and European tours.
Clarke’s record of two titles – the 2000 WGC Championship and 2002 WGC Match Play – has since been equalled by several top golfers, including Jason Day and Adam Scott, and surpassed by Dustin Johnson and Geoff Ogilvy (three victories each).
2. Emotional scenes at the 2006 Ryder Cup
The 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club in Ireland turned out to be Clarke’s last as a player and what a memorable one it was too.
He was one of skipper Ian Woosnam’s two wildcard picks along with good friend Lee Westwood. Clarke was selected just six weeks after the death of his wife, Heather, but would go on to make a huge contribution to Europe’s emphatic victory.
He won all three of his matches, forming a solid partnership with Westwood in the Friday and Saturday fourballs.
He then beat Zach Johnson 3&2 in the Sunday singles as Europe romped to an 18 1/2 – 9 1/2 win.
Europe’s victory meant a great deal to Clarke and his emotions were clear for all to see after the match.
1. Clarke’s shock Sandwich victory
At the age of 42 you would be forgiven for thinking that Clarke’s best chance of winning a Major championship was years behind him.
So no one would have fancied him to go all the way at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, in 2011 and finish three strokes ahead of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.
He was in the lead after day two and surprisingly held on to win with a score of 275.
It was Clarke’s 20th attempt at winning a Claret Jug and he became one of the most popular winners in the competition’s history.