Clarke fluffs his lines on Delhi greens
EAGLES usually arouse a more enthusiastic response on the golf course but Darren Clarke was in no mood for high-fives or cartwheels when he landed one at his final hole in the Avantha Masters.
All the Ulsterman could muster was a tight grin and a rueful rub of the chin as he watched his putt from the fringe role 25 feet across the 18th green and tumble into the cup for an eagle three (and a round of one-under-par 71).
A weekend in New Delhi which promised so much ended in frustration for Clarke. Tied eighth on 10-under par (worth €29,775), he finished four behind Australia's Andrew Dodt (24) who marked his decision to take out European Tour membership last week with his first victory as a pro.
Seven men, including Dodt, had been tied for the lead on 11-under entering the fourth round, suggesting an exciting climax at DLF Golf and Country Club.
Yet it didn't turn out that way as most of the frontrunners and their closest pursuers, including Clarke, struggled to find the pace and read the line on heavily-grained greens.
Dodt eventually reached out and grabbed the title, landing two birdies in the final three holes of his fourth-round 68. This edged him one stroke ahead of 2008 Irish Open champion Richard Finch at the top of the leaderboard after the Englishman's solitary, stirring effort to seize the day with a closing 66.
Though Clarke finished with a bogey six at 18 on Saturday after dumping his approach into water, he went into the final round just two strokes off the lead and with everything to play for.
And he had the opposition looking anxiously over their shoulder as he snapped up two birdies in his opening four holes.
Yet Clarke would find it impossible to make any further headway, his prospects of a first victory since August 2008 taking a hard knock when he pulled his second into the water at the par-five ninth, leading to another dispiriting bogey six.
A tiny glimmer arose when Clarke rolled in a seven-foot birdie putt at 12 but bogeys at 14, 15 and then 17, where he missed feebly from inside three feet to save par, brought the curtain down on the Ryder Cup veteran's tournament long before that eagle at 18.
There's little wrong with Clarke's golf game but his resolve was too easily broken on the greens in Dubai last week and once again in New Delhi.
Like Clarke, Irish Open champion Shane Lowry (22) went into the weekend with high hopes after Friday's superlative, bogey-free 66 -- but the Clara rookie then ran straight into a brick wall, posting rounds of 77 and 75 for a share of 59th place (worth just €4,200) in his fourth tournament on the trot.
While Clarke has a fortnight off before next month's Malaysian Masters, Lowry's next outing will be the Open de Andalucia in Malaga in four weeks' time.
Gareth Maybin's prospects of taking a sizeable cheque expired as he slumped to a final-round 77 yesterday, ultimately earning €7,500 in a tie for 44th place on two-under.
Meanwhile, Barry Lane's brave bid to relieve Des Smyth of his record as the oldest winner in European Tour history stalled on those mind-bending greens.
From tee to green, Lane (49) was better than his closing 71 suggested. He shared third with compatriot Richard Bland on 12-under.
In the United States, Padraig Harrington had to lean heavily on his trusty wedges and putter yesterday as he posted a 72 for a nine-under-par finish and a place in the top 20 at The AT&T National Pro-Am at beautiful Pebble Beach.
Dustin Johnson made it back-to-back victories in the event when a birdie at the par-five last hole left him on 16-under-par, one shot ahead of JB Holmes and David Duval.
Harrington played Pebble in a flawless 69 on Friday, but the Sunday set-up is markedly different at this Pro-Am as the tournament hosts tuck the pins in devilish positions.
It's still not a patch on what Harrington and his professional comrades will face at next June's US Open, when the greens will be firmer, the fairways narrower and the rough bottomless.
Harrington's solitary birdie came at the par-five sixth, where he chipped to six feet from 30 yards short of the green and drained the putt.
Just as impressive was his chip and putt from over the back for par at the scenic par-three seventh, a deft 10-foot par-saving putt at eight and a couple of glorious shots out of greenside bunkers to inches at nine and 17.
Then he went and spoiled it all with a three-putt bogey six from 27 feet at the last.