- Associated Press - Monday, July 16, 2012

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND (AP) - Darren Clarke turned in the claret jug Monday.

Now, he’s ready to start playing like the guy who won a major title.

Clarke effectively finished off his yearlong reign as British Open champion by surrendering the chalice to R&A chief executive Peter Dawson outside the clubhouse at Royal Lytham.

“I didn’t really want to give it back, obviously,” Clarke said. “The year has gone amazingly fast. It’s been an honor and a privilege for me to represent the R&A and bring the claret jug all over the world.”

While Clarke fully savored the triumph of his first major championship, he hasn’t done much on the course since that magical week at Royal St. George’s. He didn’t even make it to the weekend at the last three majors, missing the cut at both the PGA Championship and the Masters, then withdrawing from the U.S. Open with an injury. He hasn’t finished higher than 17th at any event.

“I don’t know if it’s because of winning the Open championship or not, but I’ve certainly fallen into a little bit of a trap of trying to play better, and trying too hard as opposed to just going and playing,” Clarke conceded. “I got a little caught up and tried too hard. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of our game. You get success at the highest level, and it just creates some more. I want to win again and I want to win bigger and better tournaments. There is none better than the Open championship, but I want to win the big tournaments. I just pushed myself too hard to do that.”

He’s hopeful of turning things around this week. A native of Northern Ireland, he considers his game well-suited to dealing with the persnickety British weather, which has been downright nasty most of the summer.

Howling winds? Driving rain?

Bring it on, he said.

“I grew up in it,” Clarke said. “I played a lot of links golf at home in Ireland, and we haven’t always had good weather over there. The course is going to play really tough this week. It’s quite narrow. The rough is very, very penal, and we’re forecasted for some rough weather. But that’s the Open championship. That’s what we expect, and that’s what we’re going to get. If conditions are tough, that doesn’t particularly bother me. That’s fine.”

No matter the weather, his first priority is getting his game in order.

The victory at Royal St. George’s was attributed largely to a steady putter. Clarke hasn’t been able to maintain his magic touch on the greens, though it’s hardly his only flaw.

“My whole game has been very, very average,” Clark said. “You go through spells when you putt well and spells where you don’t. Patience is obviously something I’ve had to have an awful lot of this past year, and maybe this week things will turn around get and I’ll start knocking a few in. But it’s an ongoing process as long as you’re out here on tour.”

Turns out, Clarke’s game isn’t the only thing that’s taken a bit of a beating.

The claret jug needs some repairs, too.

Story Continues →