Ranking performances at the British Open is something that is subject to a lot of debate. I have seen that there are mainly two ways people rank the performances at a tournament.
First there are the people who believe they should be ranked based on just the strokes, which to me is just about who fared better at the course for 72 holes.
Then there are the people who rank them based on the drama they created, the expectation or how much that performance pulled them to watch The Open during that specific year. And that, to me, would go according to those people’s preferences.
I respect both approaches and whoever ranks them that way. But for me, in order to rank the top performances in a golf tournament, I like to go with what other people do, which is to combine both approaches.
To rank Darren Clarke’s win at this year’s British Open, I have to first of all take a look at which are my top performances, then see where his performance would be placed in relation to them.
First, let’s state that to rank a performance is not a statement on how good that player was, is or will be. It does not matter if he was Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods, but rather how he performed in this specific tournament.
Darren Clarke’s performance, statistically speaking, is not one of the best; in the past 12 years alone, his total ranks seventh. But not every year is a Par 70. So let’s take his score ranked in that same time span in relation to Par, and it's ranked ninth.
Then if we rank it according to the drama it created and how much it made people watch it, this is where we can debate all day and disagree. The reason is, once again, because it's based on personal preferences.
And based on that, for me, it comes down to simply how much I would remember Darren Clarke’s performance. Was this one that I will be talking about 10 or 15 years after? Did it have that "wow" factor that you can point to from now on every time you talk about The Open?
The answer, for me, is no.
Darren Clarke is superbly popular on that side of the pond. We even kept watching replays of Rory McIlroy at age 9 saying Darren was his favorite player. His popularity there is definitely not in question.
Also it was great to see Darren finally winning it after 19 previous tries. Plus, having gone through the tragic loss of his wife to recover and win The Open five years later is a great story.
Not to take away from his accomplishment; he played a great tournament. But I can honestly say that on Sunday, I was watching more what Phil Mickelson was doing than Darren. That comeback would have been one for the ages.
Among my favorites are Waston and Nicklaus’ Duel in The Sun in 1977, Tiger at St. Andrews in 2000, Seve and Watson in 1984, Watson as runner-up in 2009, Seve’s first Open in 1979, Harrington’s first Open in 2007, the records for Norman’s in 1993, Nick Faldo’s in 1990 and even John Daly’s 1995 win.
Compared to those, I cannot say Darren’s is a top-10 performance of all time. It was a great story and a popular one; a very good performance, just not an all-time great.