IT was not the preceding six birdies but the two-metre putt for par on the final green that delighted Darren Clarke most on the opening day of the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
Clarke had stood in the middle of the fairway moments earlier leading the tournament by a stroke and with rain pouring down he looked a little dispirited after sending a 7-iron second shot into a greenside bunker.
However, the 41-year old then managed to get his third to within six feet from where he holed a testing putt to card a six-under par 65 and maintain his lead in the event being played along the shores of the famous Scottish loch.
Clarke’s effort was his lowest opening round in six months, and is a welcome and long overdue return to form for the Irishman, who also is looking for a first Race to Dubai success in nearly two years.
But then Clarke had signalled his good form by winning the JP McManus Pro-Am earlier this week at Adare Manor, and it was a victory helped by a putting tip he received from caddy Brendan McCurtain during last week’s French Open.
“With Brendan’s advice I changed my setup on Thursday night in Paris and I have started rolling the ball a lot better again,” said Clarke who recorded 26 putts at Loch Lomond.
“I did so at Adare Manor and managed to win there. But I’ve always been a confidence player and whenever I start seeing the ball going into the hole, the whole game seems a lot easier for me.
“But it was just great to see that putt drop at the last, because you can talk about my birdies, but there was nothing more pleasing to par the last.”
Aside from a first victory since the 2008 KLM Open, Clarke has the added incentive of sealing a place in next week’s British Open by either winning or finishing the highest among the leading five.
Damien McGrane made it an Irish ‘one-two’ atop of the Scottish Open leaderboard after birding three of his closing four holes in carding a 66 and share second place with Italy’s Edoardo Molinari and England’s Graeme Storm.
“The key for me was that I hit a wedge or sand-wedge inside six feet every time so I made a couple of soft birdies which was nice,” he said.
“I have been playing quite well but just been trying to get four days out of it.”
Seven players, among them double Major winning John Daly, are next best after rounds of 67.
Shane Lowry is a shot further back after a 68 and Graeme McDowell restored the gloss to a rusty-looking first competitive round since winning the US Open with a pair of closing birdies in a level par 71. Peter Lawrie carded a 70 to win bragging rights in the all-Ireland three-ball of himself, Gareth Maybin (71) and Paul McGinley (74).
Michael Hoey had a double bogey in his 74 and for crestfallen former US and Irish Open winner Michael Campbell it’s a case of when it rains, it just pours.
Campbell lost his ball after a wayward drive down the sixth but in digging into his bag for a replacement the Kiwi pulled out a Callaway ball of a different compression and weight to the one he had teed off the sixth hole with.
“I couldn’t believe it and it’s something I’ve never done before in all my years as a professional, but then that’s the rules of golf,” he said. “It’s our job to uphold the integrity of the game. But I have to be honest and say it really rattled me.”
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