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Clarke ends long barren spell with top-10 finish


Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke

DARREN CLARKE headed home from the Australian PGA at Coolum full of Christmas cheer after clinching his first top-10 finish since his 2011 British Open triumph at Sandwich.

The Ulsterman plummeted from 30th in the world rankings after Royal St George's to 140th after one of the most frustrating and sustained barren spells of his career.

Yet a recent swing adjustment has put Clarke back in the right groove.

The four-under-par 68 that yesterday earned him €31,400 in a nine-way tie for eighth on nine-under was the 44-year-old's eighth successive round of par or better in the past fortnight, a level of consistency he has not shown in 30 months.

Clarke, five-under for his first five holes yesterday, including an eagle three at the third, will return to action at the Volvo Champions in Durban in the new year.

He faces a hugely significant date the following week in Abu Dhabi when the European Tour's all-powerful Tournament Players Committee chooses between Clarke and Paul McGinley for the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy.

Daniel Popovic (26) wrapped up a four-stroke win with his final-round 69 at Coolum. The Melbourne native emotionally dedicated his first professional victory to his father Rad, who has incurable bone cancer. Former pizza chef Popovic was 1,251st in the world as he teed it up last Thursday.

Charl Schwartzel stormed to a phenomenal 12-stroke victory at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, a final-round 69 moving the South African to 24-under for his 72 holes at Leopard Creek – and a staggering 49-under for his last two events.

Schwartzel (28), the US Masters champion in 2011, won last week's Thailand Golf Championship by 11 shots.

Dubliner Peter Lawrie pocketed a nice little pre-Christmas bonus of €20,550 in a share of 15th place on seven-under, courtesy of a final-round 71.

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Co Down's Danielle McVeigh swept into the final round of the Ladies European Tour Q-School in Marrakesh in a tie for 46th on two-under after yesterday's 70. Sixty-six made the cut, and the top 30 and ties today win cards.

Sergio Garcia wrapped up his second victory in four months with a sensational 61 at Malaysia's Iskandar Johor Open. The Spaniard (32) was 18-under for his 54 holes in the storm-hit event. American Jonathan Moore also closed with a 61 at Horizon Hills to claim second.

Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal had a real pain in the neck as his European team lost in sudden-death to Asia at the Royal Trophy in Brunei.

Olazabal, unable to play his own singles match because of neck strain, saw Medinah duo Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari lose to South Korea's KT Kim and YE Yang on the first tie hole. Yang clinched victory with an eight-foot birdie putt, Colsaerts missing from five feet to extend the match.

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