Darren Clarke may have had a good week coming into the Open but he remains circumspect about his chances at St Andrews.
He finished joint second in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in only his second event after returning to action following a six-week break to be with wife Heather, who is suffering from cancer.
Clarke has adopted a more relaxed approach to life on the course in light of his domestic circumstances and it appears to be paying off for him.
However, that long break afforded him little time to practice and as a result he is not totally confident about his general game coming into the year’s third major at the home of golf.
“I have no expectations. My confidence isn’t high. I’ll just go out and play,” he told the Press Association.
“There is nothing in particular about my game that is pleasing me most. I’ll just wait and see [how things develop].”
One area he was certainly on top of last week was on the greens, recording just 22 putts in his second round, and that is down to the guidance of short-game guru Stan Utley.
“We worked hard last week on my putting. When Heather was ill I didn’t spend much time on my putting and it had gone off somewhat,” said Clarke, who has also tried out a selection of new drivers this week as he attempts to conquer the lengthened Old Course.
“Stan’s here this week as well and if I can combine my putting and my long game, I’ll be okay.
“I was working on the new driver and I’ve managed to find one that worked on the range – I just need to try it out on the course.”
Clarke first approached Utley, who has also worked with Jay Haas, Peter Jacobsen, Jeff Sluman and Craig Stadler, at last year’s USPGA and the pair have consulted ever since.
The American was pleased to see such an immediate impact at Loch Lomond and he will continue his fine-tuning this week.
“We work on basically the same stuff every time I see him. As people we have habits and we tend to go back to things we did before and that is all he had done,” said Utley.
“He felt he was a little off and it was fun to get there in time to send him off in a better direction. A little bit of the old stroke had crept in there but he got it worked out.
“He seemed to get the ball to come off the putter solid and that is what any of these guys need. If the ball is coming off solidly their instincts are so amazing they are going to know how hard to hit and how to get it to go in the right direction.
“His stroke looked great [at Loch Lomond] and I think his results were good as well. He made plenty of putts and didn’t give any away.”
The 36-year-old Clarke has had three top-10 finishes in his last seven Opens - the best being joint second at Troon in 1997 – but he has set himself no targets this week and will try to accept that some of the quirks of the Old Course may mean he gets the odd unlucky bounce or run off.
“This week I think everyone’s going to hit it in the bunkers at some stage or another,” he said.
“You’ve just to take it on the chin, chip it out and carry on. If you don’t, you’re going to pay even bigger penalties.
“There are too many bunkers out there to get away with playing conservative golf. You’ve got to find a middle line.”