Saturday 21 April 2018

Irish Open: Clarke continues to impress

Darren Clarkescored a five under par 66. Photo: Getty Images
Darren Clarkescored a five under par 66. Photo: Getty Images

Darren Clarke continued his recent revival with a five under par 66 when the 3 Irish Open began at Killarney today.

Out-scoring playing partner and fellow Ulsterman Rory McIlroy - 20 years his junior - by one, Clarke tucked in just a stroke behind Australian left-hander Richard Green.

Down in the dumps about his form a month ago, the 41-year-old then won the JP McManus Pro-am and finished second in the Scottish Open in the same week.

That has put him back in contention for a Ryder Cup recall - even though European captain Colin Montgomerie named him as one of his assistants a week ago - and an invitation to the US PGA in the fortnight has further boosted his hopes.

"That was a great bonus before the tournament started," said Clarke, who did not miss a green in regulation and did not drop a stroke.

Green, though, birdied four of the last seven holes to take the outright lead as he bids for a third European Tour title.

Scotland's former Open champion Paul Lawrie reached six under as well, but bogeyed the last to slip back alongside Clarke.

McIlroy's eight birdies were three more than Clarke, but the world number eight - he is the highest-ranked player taking part - dropped four strokes in six holes around the turn.

Former winner Padraig Harrington and US Open champion Graeme McDowell were among the later starters, but Justin Rose's Ryder Cup chances suffered a jolt with an opening three over 74.

This is only the third appearance in Europe this year by Rose, but two wins in America have made him a front-runner for one of Montgomerie's three wild cards if he fails to climb into an automatic qualifying position.

Paul McGinley, another of Montgomerie's assistants, raced to five under with an eagle and three birdies in the first seven, but in the end had to settle for a three under 68.

It was the same story for Swede Patrik Sjoland, winner of the title at Ballybunion 10 years ago.

Out in a five under 30 - he also eagled the seventh - Sjoland then double-bogeyed the short 10th and eventually signed for "only" a 68 as well.

Green finished with a 30-foot double-breaking putt and said: "I felt very comfortable when I first saw the course.

"For a change it's a little bit old school. I'm not one of the longer hitters and over the last five years European Tour courses have got so long and difficult."

German Marcel Siem joined Clarke and Lawrie on five under with a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th.

Press Association

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