- Associated Press - Monday, July 16, 2012

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — 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 past three majors, missing the cut at 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.”