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Johnson wound up with a double bogey instead of the birdie he needed, turning the final four holes into nothing more than a victory lap for Clarke.
His stroll up 18 was met with unending applause, the loudest saved for the closing ceremony when he was introduced as the champion golfer of the year.
More than that, Clarke is a man of the people.
"I'm a bit of a normal bloke, aren't I?" Clarke said, the claret jug at his side. "I like to go to the pub and have a pint, fly home, buy everybody a drink, just normal. There's not many airs and graces about me. I was a little bit more difficult to deal with in my earlier years, and I've mellowed some. Just a little bit. But I'm just a normal guy playing golf, having a bit of fun."
Mickelson would've preferred to win, of course. The British Open has always been the major that gives him the most trouble -- this was only his second top-10 finish -- and he was right there in contention on a Sunday.
Still, even he didn't mind seeing Clarke collecting all the accolades.
"He's very well liked," said Mickelson, whose got a call from Clarke after his own wife was stricken with cancer. "There's a lot of players that are extremely happy for him."
Johnson is becoming known for his major meltdowns. Last year, he threw away a three-stroke lead at the U.S. Open with an 82 on the final day. Then, as the PGA Championship, he missed out on a playoff when assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker he thought was a foot path on the 72nd hole.
He seemed unfazed by his latest misfortune.
"Like I say all the time, the more I put myself in this situation, the more I learn," Johnson said. "I think I did a pretty good job. It was very tough."
No one was tougher than Clarke.
Despite meaningless bogeys on the last two holes, Clarke closed with an even-par 70 to finish at 5-under 275.
"Pretty amazing right now," Clarke said. "It's been a dream since I've been a kid to win the Open, like any kid's dream is, and I'm able to do it, which just feels incredible."
Northern Ireland had gone 63 years -- since Fred Daly in the 1947 British Open -- without winning a major. Now it has three of the last six, with Rory McDowell and Graeme McDowell claiming consecutive U.S. Open titles.
The U.S. hasn't won in that span -- extending its longest drought in the modern Grand Slam era, even though five of the top seven finishers at Royal St. George's were Americans.
Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim and Chad Campbell all finished at even par, just behind Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who failed to make up for his heartbreaking loss at the 2003 Open, the last held at this course in southeastern England.
"Northern Ireland...... Golf capital of the world!!" McIlroy tweeted as Clarke played the last hole.
No argument there.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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