A WEEK may be a long time in politics but for Darren Clarke the last seven days have been among the sweetest of his career despite his failure to win the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
Instead of heading home to Surrey on Sunday night and preparing to watch the 150th Open Championship on television, Clarke relaxed by watching the first half of the World Cup final before heading across Scotland to St Andrews to renew acquaintance with the Old Course and the historic competition.
A starting place in the 150th Open was his ‘consolation prize’ for running up to Italian Edoardo Molinari at the weekend. After winning the JP McManus Pro-Am at Adare Manor and then performing so well at Loch Lomond, Clarke is relishing his appearance at St Andrews.
“I’m pleased to be here but very disappointed not to win the tournament,” he said last night of his weekend work.
“On Sunday, I hit a really good shot into the third that caught the bank and went down into the water and I made seven. With conditions so tough, it was always going to be tough to catch up from there.”
Although Sunday’s 76 took some of the sheen off his previous scores of 65, 67 and 67, Clarke maintained that “the last day wasn’t bad but I got off to a bad start, four over after five, and the conditions were very hard. Yes, I was bitterly disappointed not to win but overall it wasn’t too bad.”
That final comment was a major understatement given that he had missed the cut in four of his previous seven tournaments and hasn’t threatened since coming second in the South African Open last January.
So why this sudden transformation in his fortunes? It’s one he certainly hadn’t foreseen, since he only brought one week’s set of clothing with him to Scotland, and! Clarke is at a loss to explain it.
“I haven’t been hitting it any differently,” he maintained. “When you see the ball go in the hole, you’re thinking a little better and feel a little bit better. Because I wasn’t holing any putts, I was getting very frustrated.
“I’m excited about the Open, I’m looking forward to it. It’s proper golf, we’re back on one of the best links courses in the world. You can chip and run five irons from 140 yards. It’s what we grew up playing all our championships on at home — proper links courses.”
Clarke couldn’t recall how he fared in his three previous St Andrews Opens and so it was time for recourse to the records to discover he was 30th in 1995, seventh in 2000 and 15th in 2005. So what is he hoping for this time round.
He smiled: “I just want to keep on playing like I did last week. I had two good tournaments in one week.”
So I tried again, pointing out that the likes of Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton had stunned the marquee names at the Open in recent times. If they could win it out of the blue, so, surely could Clarke.
“Are you putting me in that category?” he replied with a mischievous smile. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be that man. On links courses, you need the odd good bounce and the odd good break more than anything else.”
Asked to what his strategy might be, he thought for a second and said: “Keep on smiling.”
He managed to do a lot of that at Loch Lomond, whether the news was good or bad, and it’s a lot better than the all too familiar sight of slumped shoulders after a poor shot or missed putt.
“No, this is not a new Darren Clarke,” he insisted. “I’m just more accepting because I feel as if I can hole more putts, if it goes in, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Clarke currently still lives in Surrey but in three weeks will have moved into a temporary home in Portrush while his own new house with glorious views of the famous links is being completed.
Clarke’s second place on Sunday fired him 75 places up the world rankings to 104th and within touching distance of the top 100 and with it an invitation to play in the final Major of the year, the US PGA at Whistling Straits, next month.
Though he claims he isn’t thinking about the Ryder Cup, he is up to 22nd in the European points list while his cheque for €401,063 on Sunday has boosted his place in the Tour’s Race to Dubai order of merit to 17th with €653,926.
If Clarke was the Irish success story of the Scottish Open, it also proved a bonanza for Shane Lowry. Seventh at Loch Lomond earned him €108,228 and nudges him to 47th in the order of merit with €341,402. Furthermore, the Offaly man has gone from 102 to 88 in the world rankings and set for an invitation to the US PGA.
Indeed, the campaign to date is proving hugely successful for the Irish contingent as the following positions on the money list demonstrate: 1st, Graeme McDowell, €924,184; 17th, Darren Clarke €653,926; 27th, Padraig Harrington €547,858; 36th, Rory McIlroy €€428,569; 37th Gareth Maybin €427,242; 47th, Shane Lowry €341,402; 52nd, Damien McGrane €318,083.
Peter Lawrie (62nd), Michael Hoey (117th) Paul McGinley (158th) Colm Moriarty (240th) and Gary Murphy (253rd) all lie outside the top 60.
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