Emotional Darren Clarke 'very proud' after teeing off the 148th Open Championship

Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke
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Darren Clarke admitted is was more emotional than he thought it was going to be when he stepped on to the first tee at Royal Portrush this morning.

The 50-year-old, who has been one of the driving forces behind The Open returning to Northern Ireland, had the honour of kicking off the tournament in earnest on the famous links course.

It was a very proud moment for the former Open winner even if there were a few nerves.

"On the first tee this morning a little bit, and then on the last," admitted Clarke.

"There's always nerves. If any professional golfer tells you they haven't got nerves when you start a tournament, you're in the wrong job.

"It was more emotional than I thought it was going to be, to be honest. I knew the golf course was going to be fabulous.

"I think you guys know better than me, after having spoken to all the players and stuff, they're really enjoying the golf course. It is a proper, fair test of golf.

"The scores are going to show that, not just today but at the end of the week. It was one of those things that I was very proud to be standing on that first tee hitting the first shot.

"This was a good one. Even walking up the 18th green there when everyone was roaring. Last time I did that was 2011 on the 72nd hole. It was fabulous.

"It's obviously not just me. It's Rory, G-Mac, all that sort of stuff. But I think to see all the people coming here, to see how much they put their arms around it, it's fabulous."

Clarke finished on level par 71 and was happy with how he played, if slightly frustrated with a couple of his shots.

"I hit a lot of really good shots today," he said. "The one into the last, the flag just caught the downslope.

"Another couple of foot it's going to be really close. I hit a lot of good shots, but I hit a couple of poor ones, as well, and wasted a lot of shots.

"You have bad shots, you have to expect that. When you have decent shots and you make bogeys, and I did that today. I probably wasted two or three shots out there, which is a little bit frustrating. Seventy-one is not a bad start for me.

"But it was tricky out there. We probably had the best of the day and it was still tricky. It was hard to score. And Portrush, in this sort of breeze, it's a challenge. That's just what it is. It's fair but tough, brilliant."

Clarke was playing with Amateur Championship winner James Sugrue and was impressed with what he saw from the 22-year-old, who also carded 71.

"Yeah, we talked all the way around," he said. "He played really nicely. He was really good. I was egging him on and keeping it going.

"I said to him on the seventh tee, 'this is something that just came into my head, James, I don't know if this is good or bad, you come through my Darren Clarke Foundation, and on the 7th tee I'm leading and you're second, there's something not quite right about that'!

"We had a right good laugh and chuckle about that. James played beautifully. A really nice young man."