For Clarke, this win tastes sweeter

SANDWICH, England -- If Darren Clarke winning the Open Championship was a surprise, then the way he celebrated his unexpected victory certainly was not.

Clarke, not shy when it comes to a party, arrived back at Royal St. George's on Monday morning to a media gathering with no sleep following his three-shot victory over Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

"I've not been to bed yet," said Clarke, 42, who was joined by friends and family at a nearby rental home. "There's no surprise really, is there? It's now 10 past 9 [a.m.] and probably won't get any sleep until tomorrow at some stage. Have to enjoy it when you can.

"I had quite a few pints and quite a few beers and quite a few glasses of red wine, and it all continued until about 30 minutes ago. I did look at my watch before I said that, so it did take a while. But it's been a very good night."

No doubt.

Clarke's final-round 70 held off a front-nine charge by Mickelson -- who opened in 30 strokes -- and was good enough to build on a one-stroke 54-hole advantage over Johnson, who has now been in the final group at three majors without a victory.

A 14-time winner on the European Tour, Clarke was not high on many lists of potential winners. He came in ranked 111th in the world, and although he won a European Tour event earlier this year in Spain, it was played the same week as the Players Championship, where nearly all of the top-100 players in the world competed.

Now he's guaranteed himself spots in all four majors for at least the next five years, the Open until age 60.

"I think I'm definitely a better player now than I was 10 years ago," Clarke said. "And yes, I definitely appreciate an awful lot more what I've achieved now than what I did then.

"Ten years ago maybe, I did take an awful lot of things for granted as a professional golfer. I played well and I won this and I achieved this and blah, blah, blah, but definitely I'm much more appreciative of what the sponsors do, of what the players do, of what goes along with the tournament," he said.

"This week has been a combination of all that sort of things, much easier and much more -- it's been wonderful."

He is the third member of the International Sports Management group of golfers to win a major championship this year, following Charl Schwartzel at the Masters and Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open.

Amazingly, prior to the Open, agent to all three Andrew "Chubby" Chandler was asked if he "fancied" McIlroy's chances to win consecutive Majors, and he instead said, "Wouldn't it be something if Darren did it?"

"I haven't seen Darren like that since the Match Play at LaCosta in 2000 when he beat Tiger [Woods] in the final," said Chandler, who made a handshake deal to first represent Clarke more than 20 years ago. "Darren has had a lot of shots at it and you think time might be running out -- but then it all happens."

Numerous reports in the U.K. have suggested that Clarke was in line for a big bonus -- believed to be about $3 million -- from a clothing company he represents.

From a golf standpoint, he's secured his position in future majors, as well as up the list on Europe's Race to Dubai.

Of course, Clarke said seeing his name engraved on the Claret Jug was far more meaningful than any financial rewards.

"That is beyond price, yes. For all my golfing career, to get my name on here, it means more than anything," he said. "Chub will, as he always does, look after everything, and I'll be fortunate that it will benefit me hugely financially, but it's more to have my name on there, which is the most important thing."

Clarke has often been mentioned as a candidate to be Europe's Ryder Cup captain in 2014 when the matches are played in Scotland. While he said he hopes to be the captain one day, he suggested that he'd like to make the team as a player -- as he would for next year's matches at Medinah near Chicago.

Unfortunately, the Open victory comes with no points for the European side, as the official qualifying period doesn't begin until September.

But while Clarke was ready to continue the party at his Portrush, Northern Ireland, home Tuesday and in London on Wednesday, he also didn't seem content to have this be it.

"What else can I do? Can I retire and say that's it? I can't," Clark said. "I don't want to rest on this. I want to keep on going, keep on working, because my golf was obviously very good this week. I still feel I can compete with the best in the world."

In the short term, there won't be much worrying about that. Clarke had a party to get back to.