Friday 24 March 2017

Stage set for Clarke to defy the odds with Tiger lurking

Karl MacGinty

DARREN CLARKE has made a habit of bucking the odds and performing miracles -- from the emotional high of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club to last July's dream-like British Open victory at Sandwich.

Even though Clarke was world No 19 when he met Tiger Woods in the 2000 final of the Match Play World Championship of Golf, few at La Costa gave the Ulsterman much of a chance.

Yet he spirited away the trophy in a cloud of cigar smoke, brilliantly beating Woods 4&3.

Like many first-time Major champions, Clarke (42) has become tangled up by expectation, tumbling out of the world's elite top 50 as he failed to raise a gallop in any of the 12 events he has played since the British Open.

Tomorrow's Accenture Match Play first-round clash with Nick Watney will be his first competitive outing in four weeks since missing the cut last month in Abu Dhabi.

Yet, such is the wild and wonderfully unpredictable nature of 18-hole match play, Clarke probably has a better chance of finding salvation in the Sonoran Desert this week than anywhere else.

Indeed, the Accenture could become a real fun event for Clarke if he manages to overturn the odds against Watney.

A second-round match against Tiger awaits, should Woods prevail in his first-round showdown with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano -- followed by a potential third-round clash with Lee Westwood, another confrontation capable of giving Clarke the kick-start he needs.

Second seed Rory McIlroy meets inexperienced South African George Coetzee tomorrow after Ernie Els slipped down the world ladder last weekend into a first-round face-off with defending champion Luke Donald. Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, plays KJ Choi.

G-Mac and Wee-Mac are Ireland's greatest hopes. Yet, as he links up with Dr Bob Rotella and is reminded how good he was at Sandwich, don't be surprised if Clarke pulls off another miracle or two this week.

Irish Independent

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