- Associated Press - Monday, July 18, 2011

SANDWICH, ENGLAND (AP) - Darren Clarke’s bleary, bloodshot eyes told it all.

The party began shortly after he walked off the 18th green at Royal St. George’s with the claret jug in hand. Beer and red wine flowed through the night, the revelry not letting up until Clarke had to return Monday morning for a few more interviews and some picture-taking at the spot where he tapped in the final putt to win the British Open.

“I have not been to bed yet,” Clarke said. “I probably won’t get any sleep until tomorrow at some stage. You have to enjoy it while you can.

“It’s been,” he added mischievously, “a very good night.”

Clarke sure earned it.

No one had ever gone more than 15 British Opens before winning. Clarke did it on his 20th try at 42, making him the oldest first-time major winner since Roberto de Vicenzo in 1967.

But that only tells part of the story. Clarke lost his wife, Heather, to cancer five years ago, leaving him to raise two young boys. Not surprisingly, his focus on the course wavered, which sent him plummeting out of the top 100 in the world. It had been a decade since he was a serious contender in a major _ he didn’t even qualify for the three majors that preceded the Open.

“I definitely appreciate an awful lot more what I’ve achieved,” Clarke said. “Ten years ago, I did take an awful lot of things for granted.”

His parents and new love, fiancee Alison Campbell, were at Royal St. George’s to cheer him. Clarke’s two boys stayed home in Northern Ireland, but he phoned them shortly after his three-stroke victory over Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

“Tyrone, my oldest one, was very pleased, very proud,” Clarke said. “He was going to tell everybody his dad was Open champion.”

And Conor, his youngest?

“He wanted to know what he could spend all the money on,” Clarke said, breaking into a grin.

That’s not surprising. Clarke has always been a guy who lived life to the fullest, so it’s only appropriate that he passed on that attitude to his children.

Then again, given all that’s happened, Clarke plans to handle the spoils of this triumph a bit more prudently than he would have, say, 10 years ago. His Open prize was nearly $1.5 million, and there will undoubtedly be a flood of new endorsement opportunities.

“I actually don’t have anything in mind because I’ve been there, done all that before,” Clarke said. “I’ve had the opportunity to buy whatever I want to buy and all that. This time, I’m a little bit older and a little bit more sensible. If I can put a little bit more aside for my boys’ future, then that’s what I’ll do, as opposed to looking after myself.”

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