Darren Clarke is just hours away from the biggest win of his professional golf career – with Northern Ireland on the verge of a sensational Majors hat-trick.

Clarke will tee-off Sunday’s final round at the British Open with a one shot advantage over American Dustin Johnson at Royal St George’s.

The Ryder Cup hero watched and applauded as first Padraig Harrington won three Majors then fellow Ulstermen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy won successive US Opens.

Now, 20 years after his first British Open, Clarke is the Major man of the moment at Sandwich with McIlroy out of title contention and nine shots off the pace.

The 42-year-old Clarke played the horrendous weather conditions perfectly in Saturday’s third round to record a superb 69 and finish on five under par for the tournament, one of only six players under par for the 54 holes.

Second to Justin Leonard in 1997 at Troon, Clarke is one ahead of Johnson and two ahead of close friend Thomas Bjorn and the young American Rickie Fowler.

“I have a chance to realize a dream now and that would be fantastic,” said Clarke.

“I’ve done just about everything else. I’ve been fortunate to win Ryder Cups and World Championships, but a major has so far eluded me.

“I’ve a pretty decent chance. A major is always tough to win, but I’ve put myself in position.

“From tee to green I can’t really play any better. I had one of those days where I had full control of my ball flight, but I didn’t have the speed with my putting at all.

“If somebody had said before the start I could have 69, though, I would have bitten their hand off.”

Now happily engaged, back home in Northern Ireland and living beside the world famous Portrush links, Clarke is also enjoying the adulation of the huge galleries at Sandwich.

“I think most of the crowd identify with a guy who’s not quite an athlete and likes a pint,” laughed Clarke.