Saturday 18 November 2017

Transformed Clarke stays in hunt after maintaining 'lovely' form

Darren Clarke pictured during the first round of the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club in Durban, South Africa.
Darren Clarke pictured during the first round of the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club in Durban, South Africa.

Karl MacGinty

DARREN CLARKE has attracted much attention with his freshly chiselled physique at Durban Country Club -- but the quality of his golf game was just as striking during the opening 36-holes of the Volvo Golf Champions.

Whatever about the diet and conditioning programme which helped him shed a whopping 40lbs-plus since the autumn, pickings have been excruciatingly slim for Clarke on the golf course since his sensational victory at the 2011 Open Championship.

Yet the 45-year-old Northern Irishman's performance thus far in Europe's annual tournament of champions suggests he's at last beginning to build the momentum and confidence needed to reclaim his place in the upper echelons of world golf.

If Clarke had been impressive during Thursday's polished 69, the quality of his golf as he swept into a share of the tournament lead through eight holes yesterday was breathtaking.

Three-under for his round at that point and six-under for the tournament, Clarke stalled on the back-nine, hitting three loose tee- shots into the whipping wind which turned almost 180 degrees overnight at this strategic gem on the Indian Ocean shore.

FLOURISHING

He made bogey into the breeze at the 11th and par-five 14th and a disappointing par four at the teasing 280-yard final hole, but it's a measure of Clarke's flourishing morale that he was able to shrug it all off with nonchalance.

"I played lovely again today, but my stock shot that I use in Portrush, a little low punch with the driver, I pulled it three times into the rubbish, which is not like me," he said.

"Then I pulled my three-wood into 18 as well, altogether costing me four shots. But that's just early season stuff. The timing was a bit off.

"I'm playing good and I feel strong as well. I'm only three shots off the lead going into the weekend, which isn't that far off. So far, it's been a good start to the season."

Clarke is now starting to play, putt and sound like a contender once again, a lot more could be in the offing tomorrow than his first top-10 finish on either the US or European Tours since Sandwich.

Simon Thornton was "a bit disappointed" with the even-par 72 which saw him slip back into a share of 11th place with Padraig Harrington on two-under.

"I didn't play great to be honest," said the 36-year-old Newcastle, Co Down, local. "I hit it alright, but missed a couple of putts. It was just a bit scrappy all round. However, I'm still in there."

Michael Hoey bogeyed the final two holes for a second-round 73 to leave him tied-20th on one-over.

Irish Independent

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