Golf means never taking anything for granted

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SANDWICH, ENGLAND (AP) - Dustin Johnson probably doesn’t think he’ll have to wait 15 years to win a major.

He already has won four times in his four years on the PGA Tour, and he has played in the final group at three of the last six majors. That doesn’t happen by accident. To say Johnson is the most talented American golfer won’t get much of an argument.

Then again, a young Darren Clarke might have thought the same thing.

Clarke was among the new faces in European golf that helped inspire a slow revival in the late 1990s. He might not have had the raw skill of someone like Johnson, but a major figured to be in his future. He played in the final group at Royal Troon in 1997. He took down Tiger Woods at the 2000 Match Play Championship when Woods was at the absolute top of his game. Then came another close call a year later in the British Open.

His major finally arrived Sunday, a month before he turns 43, his head full of gray hair and his belly bulging.

But at least he got there.

“The hardest thing with Darren was that he’s been slightly labeled an underachiever. And he was,” his agent, Chubby Chandler, said in the glowing aftermath Sunday evening. “He had the talent to win a major, an Open, but it didn’t happen. For it to happen like this is just amazing. Now he’s no longer an underachiever.”

Clarke became the third-oldest player to win his first major, trailing only 45-year-old Jerry Barber in the 1961 PGA Championship and Roberto De Vicenzo at 44 in the 1967 British Open.

There are others like Clarke who were on the downside of their prime years when they won a major. Two that come to mind are Tom Kite, who was 42 when he won the U.S. Open, and Mark O’Meara, who was 41 when he won the Masters and British Open.

One reminder from this British Open is that there are no guarantees in golf. The game owes nothing to anyone.

Johnson would seem to be a lock to win a major, simply by the experience he has been gaining, even if it’s the kind he’d rather forget. But hard knocks also raise questions.

There was that atrocious start at Pebble Beach last year on his way to an 82, his dubious two-shot penalty on the final hole of Whistling Straits last year at PGA Championship when he didn’t realize he was in a bunker, and that 2-iron on the 14th hole of Royal St. George’s on Sunday.

Surely, he’ll figure it out soon.

But wasn’t that also said of Sergio Garcia?

Garcia had it far more difficult, playing in an era when Woods was winning majors just about every year. The Spaniard is only 31, although it seems as though he’s been around much longer because he has been in the mix at majors so much. As a 19-year-old rookie, he nearly came from behind to catch Woods at Medinah. He played with Woods in the final group twice more in majors, and when Woods wasn’t around, Garcia found another nemesis while losing two majors to Padraig Harrington.

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