An emotional return to Irish soil for British Open

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Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke smiles as he speaks to colleagues don the practice range ahead of the start of the British Open golf championships at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Portrush, Northern Ireland (AP) — Darren Clarke never hit a tee shot at Royal Portrush quite like this.

The silver claret jug on display next to him, Clarke hit the opening tee shot Thursday as the British Open returned to Irish soil for the first time in 68 years. And then it got even better for Clarke, the 50-year-old from Northern Ireland who now calls Portrush home.

He holed a 15-foot putt for birdie to start his round.

Clarke won the Open in 2011 at Royal St. George’s and did not hesitate when the R&A asked if he would be willing to be the first to play. He hasn’t received such a hearty reception on the opening tee since The K Club in Ireland in 2006 for the Ryder Cup.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy looks at his putt on the 5th green during a practice round ahead of the start of the British Open golf championships at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. The British Open starts Thursday. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)