Since he was granted the Ryder Cup captaincy, he’s appeared obsessed with a desire to please by taking impeccable Ryder Cup captaincy behaviour to new heights, even if those who know him best pine for the “good old days” when the red mist would descend.
That said, there’s still a fierce competitor trapped inside the body of a Ryder Cup captain and he’s threatening to get loose.
“Am I different? I don’t know. You’re a better judge. At the end of the day, I still want to compete myself never mind the Ryder Cup captaincy,” Clarke said after a 74 that could have been two shots lower — or higher. “I want to go out and do as well as I can.”
Two double bogeys on the front nine, not to mention three three-putts, took a huge amount of the gloss off what was still a polished performance from a 46-year old in his 13th Masters.
But he maintained his jovial mood all the way around, even when he hit a couple of shots into places that made it impossible to save par, or even bogey.
After missing a nine footers for birdie at the first and the second, he looked odds on to make birdie when he chipped a 92-yard approach to eight feet at the third but totally misread the birdie putt. As punishment, it wasn’t long before Augusta National jumped up and bit him hard.
Having pushed his tee shot a few yards into the first cut of rough at the fifth, he lost his 194-yard four iron to the right and elected to putt across the huge ridge that protected the pin.
Fatally, he started his putt too low and it caught the slope and caromed off to the left, finishing near the front of the green from where he three-putted for a double bogey six.
He didn’t look too perturbed as he stalked off to the sixth and a 172-yard, seven-iron approach to 11 feet and holed the putt to get back to one over.
But Augusta National’s seventh is not one of the toughest on the course for nothing and it made Clarke dearly for a fanned four iron into the crowd.
Faced with a treacherous chip to a pin perched precariously on a ridge, he didn’t give it enough and ended up three putting from the bowl in the front right corner of the green that gathers mishits from that side.
“You’d think that I’ve been here enough times to know where I should miss it and I were I shouldn’t miss it,” Clarke said with faintest of grins. “And the two that I did miss, the best I could have done was get it to 30 feet and I couldn’t even manage to do that and then two three putts to follow them up.
“It’s just that having been here as many times as I have, to go and make the couple of mistakes that I have.”
There was no sign of giving up, though. And even when his caddie hung his head as Clarke’s’ drive at the eighth exploded into the face of a fairway trap like an errant mortar, he made par and turned in 39 before coming home in a respectable one under 35.
Yes, he three-putted the par-five 13th for par after two great shots. But he made birdie at the 15th and holed a brace of seven footers for par on the last two greens.
“And all in all, two over is not bad. Not what I wanted, but not bad.”
Augusta National still woos him and makes him want to stand up straighter and play better. It even makes his nerve-ends tingle a little. “If you are not a little bit nervous standing on the first tee in the Masters at Augusta National, there is something wrong.”