THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE

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THE campaign for Darren Clarke to be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year is gathering pace.

The big man was amongst the 10 nominees revealed last week for the prestigious award, and is one of three golfers in the running for the gong along with Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald.

The other nominees are: Mark Cavendish (cycling), Alastair Cook (cricket), Mo Farah (athletics), Dai Greene (athletics), Amir Khan (boxing), Andy Murray (tennis) and Andrew Strauss (cricket).

The early betting suggests it is going to be a straight battle between Open winner Clarke and cyclist Cavendish, who is the current Road Race World Champion and Tour de France green jersey winner.

Clarke, who finished second in the Sports Personality of the Year awards in 2006, has also had a pretty memorable year.

The 43-year-old, who is now based in Portrush, kept his nerve to clinch his maiden major title with a three-shot victory in the Open at Royal St George’s in July.

An emotional Clarke dedicated his victory to his sons Tyrone and Conor and his late wife Heather - who died in 2006 from breast cancer.

Clarke, playing in his 20th Open Championship, became the first winner from the UK since Paul Lawrie in 1999 and the first man from Northern Ireland to win it since Fred Daly in 1947.

It was another golfing triumph for Northern Ireland as Clarke became the country’s third major champion in little over a year, following Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy’s wins at the US Open.

The Sandwich tournament was the 54th major in which Clarke had played, and he had not had a top-10 finish for a decade.

Speaking after lifting the trophy an emotional Clarke said: “There’s obviously somebody watching from up there and I know she’d be very proud. But I think she’d be more proud of my two boys,” said Clarke.

“It’s for the kids. They played golf at Royal Portrush this morning and were watching on TV.

“Heather would probably be saying, ‘I told you so’.

“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.

“I’ve got here in the end. It may be the only major that I win, it may not be the only major that I win, but at least I’ve gone out there today and did my best, and my best was good enough to win.

“If it hadn’t come off and I hadn’t won, I could still have said I did my best. I ask my two boys to do their best and that’s what they do, so I think their dad should try and do the same.”

The affable Ulsterman won the hearts of a nation with his performance at Sandwich, and he said he is ‘thrilled’ to be nominated for the BBC award.

“I’m thrilled to make the shortlist a second time,” Clarke said.

“It is an honour to share the limelight with my fellow golfers and such fantastic performers form other sports.

“To win the Claret Jug was a dream come true for me. I’m pleased it resonated with the British public and the BBC audience.

“I know what a fantastic night it is. You only have to look at the list of winners to know how important sport and this award is to the British people. I’m proud just to be playing a part.”

Felllow local golfer Graeme McDowell just missed out on the award last year following his US Open win.

But the famous trophy did make its way to the province as jockey Tony McCoy finished top of the pile.

This year’s nominee list does not feature any female sports stars, but Editor Carl Doran believes it is one of the strongest fields they have ever had.

“This year’s top 10 is a phenomenal collection of some of the best sports stars in the world - and we are really excited by the films we can put together to reflect what has been an incredible year for British sport,” he said.

“There is no doubt that list itself is oozing with incredible talent. It is one of the strongest fields I have ever seen during my time on the show and the race itself is too close to call. The winner could easily be any of the 10.”

The winner will be selected by public vote during the live show on Thursday, 22 December.