Saturday, July 16, 2011

Glover, Clarke fare very well in fair weather

The Open 2011: Darren Clarke heads contenders bound for wild weekend

    Darren Clarke The Open
    Darren Clarke's first-round 68 was a fine effort from the 42-year-old but his 68 on Friday was a real beauty and vaulted him to the top at halfway. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Action Images
    Another day at the wide-open Open, where nothing has gone as predicted except the looming presence of a Northern Irish golfer at the top of the leaderboard. Alas for the soothsayers and those in search of an orderly life, that golfer is not the mop-top kid from Holywood, Rory McIlroy, but the rotund gent from Dungannon, Darren Clarke. Wild weather is forecast for the weekend at Royal St George's but the two friends will relish the challenge of winning another major championship for the world's smallest golfing superpower. At the very least they know they have a chance of victory, which is more than can be said of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the world's No1 and No2 golfers. The two Englishmen were tipped by many to win their first major but instead were homeward bound. Westwood missed the cut by one shot, Donald by three. What a contrast their fortunes made with Clarke, who spent the preliminaries at Royal St George's fielding questions about McIlroy and the first two days of the main event reminding the world there is more than one golfer from his neck of the woods. A first-round 68 was a fine effort from the 42-year-old but his 68 on Friday was a real beauty and vaulted him to the top at halfway, on four under, alongside the under-rated American Lucas Glover. "There is an awful long way to go and the course is playing quite tough, so the tournament is still wide open for an awful lot of players," Clarke said. He was right about that. Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel, the US PGA champion and the Masters winner, were prominent in the cavalry charge behind the leaders. As was the young amateur Tom Lewis, who followed his opening day 65 with a very respectable 74, That was good enough for a one-under total of 139, though it did not quite match up to the 20-year-old's expectations. Still, at least he gets to play at the weekend of the 2011 Open – which is more than can be said of Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter, two more illustrious names who missed the cut – and he got to watch his playing partner Tom Watson make a hole-in-one at the par-three 6th. McIlroy is one shot further back after a one-under 69, the highlight of which was a stunning greenside bunker shot on the final hole – from a plugged lie and over a lip that must have looked the north face of the Eiger. He rolled in a 10-footer for par. "I put a lot of pressure on me to hole that putt, and it makes me feel pretty good going into the weekend," he said. The US Open champion was not alone. Indeed, with the 72 players who made the cut within seven shots of the lead, all of them will believe victory is possible, and of those perhaps as many as half are right. A man could lose a wardrobe of shirts backing the accuracy of weather forecasts but barring another Michael Fish moment the Kent coast is likely to be battered by wind and rain for most of Saturday, in which case hold on to your hat, your umbrella and your temper.More...

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