Darren Clarke’s charge in the thunderstorm affected Shell Houston Open came to a screeching halt — no thanks to the sound of screeching brakes.
Clarke, who is contesting the $6 million (€4.5m) event for a first time in three years, was three under par standing on the 18th tee — or the ninth hole of his opening round — on the Redstone course.
However, the British Open champion then sent his tee shot into water that runs the entire length down the left side and, after playing a third from the tee, Clarke was just about to hit a fourth from the fairway when a golf cart being driven down the path on the right of the hole slammed on its brakes.
Clarke and new full-time caddy, Phil Morbey stared down the driver but to no avail as Clarke’s ball found the water just left of the green, and then walked away with a triple bogey seven.
“My tee shot was poor but I could have done without that guy slamming on the brakes right on my backswing but c’est la vie,” he said.
Once again, since his Royal St George’s triumph, it was the shortest club in his bag again causing the biggest problems with Clarke paring all inward holes in a score of 72. And this despite Clarke recording just 27 putts.
He emerged from the scorer’s hut ahead of a 45-minute lunch break and then going straight into his second round pointing his index finger at putting coach, Phi Kenyon saying: “My speed was so good on the greens every putt was a foot-and-a-half short.”
Pádraig Harrington, who commenced his round from the first, officially headed the three Irish with a round of a three under par 69, one fewer than Graeme McDowell.
Harrington’s only concern was having to take a free drop in putting his tee shot into a grandstand at the back of the par three, 16th.
“I hit one of nicest shots of the day into the 16th but over the last couple of holes the wind changed,” he said.
“I watched Bill (Lunde) come up 10 yards short with his seven-iron so Ronan (Flood) and I decided on a six-iron and it just turned around when I hit and it landed over in the grandstand. I then played a poor chip and missed my third from 18 inches.
“But it was nice to bounce straight back as I holed a good 25-footer at the 17th so all in all, four birdies and just one bogey wasn’t bad.”
While Harrington seems at ease this week the same can’t be said about his trainer, Dale Richardson. The Australian-born Richardson tumbled off his mountain bike.
Three players — defending Houston champion Phil Mickelson, fellow Masters winner Angel Cabrera and Sweden’s Carl Pettersson — were the official first round leaders on seven under par.
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