Darren Clarke: NI golfer expects 'stern' test at Senior Open as he bids to join elite group

Clarke makes his Senior Open debut at Royal Lytham on Thursday
Clarke makes his Senior Open debut at Royal Lytham on Thursday

Darren Clarke says he is expecting a tough test as he prepares to make his Senior Open debut this week.

The Dungannon native, 50, tees off at Royal Lytham on Thursday morning, less than a week after missing the cut at The Open in Royal Portrush.

Clarke almost clinched the Claret Jug at Lytham in 2001 before a late double bogey derailed his challenge.

"The course is wonderful and it's still as tough as it's ever been," said the 2011 Open champion.

"There are more bunkers than I remember, but it's in great shape and it's going to be another really good week."

He added: "It's a very strong field, lots of major champions and lots of great players, so it's going to be a good, stern test."

Despite his late slip in 2001, Clarke has fond memories of the Lancashire links.

"That was probably the best I've ever played at Lytham," said the 14-time European Tour winner.

"I remember making double-bogey on the 71st hole, so I'll try to avoid that this week."

Bidding to join elite group

Clarke's Open redemption came at Royal St. George's a decade later when he kept his nerve down the stretch to secure a three-shot victory over American duo Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

That triumph means he will bid to become only the fourth player - after Bob Charles, Gary Player and Tom Watson - to win both the Open and the Senior Open.

Clarke celebrates his 2011 Open win at Royal St George's
Clarke celebrates his 2011 Open win at Royal St. George's

A triple-bogey seven at the 18th hole of his second round meant Clarke failed to make the cut at Royal Portrush last week.

However, his otherwise steady play, which included an even-par 71 first round, has put him in confident mood ahead of his Lytham return.

"I played not too badly last week. You never know, I want to practice hard over the next couple of days and hopefully I'll be ready come Thursday."

Clarke begins his Senior Open challenge on Thursday at 09:08 BST alongside defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez and three-time winner Tom Watson.

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