Clarke on the up

Darren Clarke’s golf career appears on the up again – and his personal life certainly is.

The 40-year-old Irishman, who resumes the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond today with a one-shot lead, will never be forgotten for his amazing performance at the 2006 Ryder Cup.

Clarke helped Europe retain the trophy little more than a month after his wife Heather died from breast cancer, but then turned his full attention to raising his two young sons.

Now he has a new partner and is soon to move back to his home country from Surrey.

“Everything off the course is going very well for me,” he said after his opening 65.

“I’m just moving on with my life in a direction which I can’t wait to keep going. I have a wonderful girlfriend and off the course I can’t really ask for more.”

As for his golf, he beat Tiger Woods and a host of other big names in the JP McManus Pro-am at Adare Manor on Tuesday and he has a chance this weekend not only to win his first European Tour event for two years, but also grab a place in next week’s Open at St Andrews.

The leading non-exempt player at Loch Lomond qualifies, but has to finish in the top five to claim it.

“I’ve been on Tour for a long time,” Clarke added. “This is the first round and there’s an awful long way to go, but of course I would love to qualify.”

Going into the second day he was a stroke ahead of England’s Graeme Storm, Ireland’s Damien McGrane and Italian Edoardo Molinari, while both compatriot Graeme McDowell and Phil Mickelson were six back.

McDowell, returning to Tour life three weeks after his US Open triumph, and Masters champion Mickelson, who needs a top two finish to replace Woods as world number one, had contrasting 71s.

Mickelson was one under with five to play, but double-bogeyed the driveable par four 14th. McDowell was two over after 16, but birdied his last two.

There will be a lot of focus on whether they can close the gap – and just as much on whether 1995 Open champion John Daly can build on his 67.

Eight stones lighter than at his 22 stone heaviest prior to gastric band surgery, Daly’s financial situation has taken over from his weight as a major talking point.

The world number 499, who has not had a top 20 finish for 14 months, currently faces a demand for nearly $1m (€780,000) in unpaid taxes at home.

“It’s a struggle, but I’m not broke,” said the American, who reckons that losing sponsorship at the end of 2007 cost him more than $6m (€4.7m).

“But I’m only 44 and I still feel there’s a lot of golf left. I still feel I have the talent and can still win.

“I’m very competitive. I feel inside I don’t have a lot to prove to anybody but myself.

“Mine is not a Tiger Woods career by any means, but it’s two majors and a few wins. I’m in the top 20 of anybody who’s played the game.”

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