Golf: Clark still the poor relation

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The Independent Online
ONLY a few moons ago Nick Faldo and Howard Clark, the former a British Youths champion, the latter the British Boys champion, were fellow contenders and Ryder Cup team-mates. What happened next? Faldo, the Open champion, is the world No 1 and is about to embark on Star Trek V. Clark, who has been forgotten by the computer, is trying to relaunch a career shattered by a freak injury.

Nobody, least of all Clark, has ever pretended that golf is fair. At the Catalan Open at the beginning of the season Clark stood over a three-foot putt. 'Something snapped,' he said. 'It was like an elastic band tearing. Just instant pain.' What snapped were tendon fibres in his right arm. He missed the putt and he missed the next 10 weeks of the European Tour. He saw a cabinet of specialists and the best they have come up with so far is a series of cortisone injections.

An operation may be necessary but meanwhile Clark is back on the golf course and yesterday, after the first round of the Scandinavian Masters at Barseback, he followed Faldo into the interview room. Faldo shot 70, two under par, Clark 67. Faldo played to a packed house, Clark to two men and a dog. A few years ago Clark's caddie was Fanny Sunesson (Faldo nicked her off him); he followed Faldo's example and went to see David Leadbetter and he joined Faldo's management group, IMG. Clark has now severed all connections. 'I'm still with my wife,' he said.

While Clark admitted he was struggling to get into pro-ams, Faldo, worth an estimated pounds 30m, was talking about how his victory at Muirfield two weeks ago could finally make him fireproof. 'This one could be quite special,' he said. 'They're very busy in the office and that's a good sign. It could secure my long-term future beyond the income from playing golf. I'm secure now but I've still got to go out there and play. I don't have much luck when it comes to easy transactions. Everything's performance-related. I would like to be at the stage when even if I'm out fishing I'm making money.'

He said he knew what he was worth, roughly, but would not elaborate. 'It's quite frightening,' he said. 'I know the bottom line. The figures are pretty impressive. But it's easy to see how you can blow it. After tax I'm lucky to keep 45 per cent of what I've grossed. It's nice to know that you've got it and it's nice to live a certain lifestyle but it's still not quite as nice as I'd like it to be.'

The one-time carpet fitter from Welwyn Garden City said he was 'tres fatigued' apres Muirfield but it has not disrupted his programme of physical exercise which is designed to improve his chances in the oppressive heat he will endure during the US PGA Championship in St Louis in two weeks' time. Yesterday he had five birdies, three bogeys, two of them the result of taking three putts. 'I played the tough holes well and the easy ones badly,' he said.

Clark played virtually every hole well and the majority of his birdies were not the result of long putts but of deadly accurate approach play. The Yorkshireman is one stroke behind Steven Richardson, who developed his round of 66 on the back of a string of missable putts that didn't miss. Richardson, second in the Order of Merit last year, has missed five halfway cuts in his last seven tournaments. His father, a professional, has been trying, without conspicuous success, to get him to change his putting technique.

What has affected Richardson more than anything is a bruising to his confidence following the first lean spell of his fledgling career. 'Because Nick Faldo can win the Open it doesn't mean Steven Richardson can,' Richardson said. 'He is very exceptional.'

SCANDINAVIAN MASTERS (Barseback, Malmo) Leading first-round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 66 S Richardson. 67 H Clark. 68 V Singh (Fiji). 69 J D Blake (US), W Westner (SA), A Forsbrand (Swe), D Edlund (Swe), P Fulke (Swe). 70 G Day (US), M Mouland, E Darcy, M Harwood, P Lawrie, M Sunesson (Swe), J Spence, R Karlsson (Swe), P-U Johansson (Swe), N Faldo, M Roe, A Hunter, S Field, S Lyle, J-M Carriles (Sp). 71 J McHenry, S Hamill, M Clayton (Aus), G Levenson (SA), M Farry (Fra), J Haeggman (Swe), R Allenby, J van de Velde (Fr), R Claydon, J Heggarty, C Montgomerie, P Lonard (Aus), J Robinson, C van der Welde (Neth), P Hall, P O'Malley (Aus), S Luna (Sp), V Fernandez (Arg), M Davis, R Goosen (SA), R Boxall, H Baiocchi (SA), S Bennett. 72 N Fast (Swe), G Ralph, D Mijovic (Can), M Hallberg (Swe), S Grappasonni (It), F Nobilo (NZ), R Kawagishi (Jap), C Moody, R Hartmann (US), E O'Connell, P Baker, S Tinning (Den), R Davis (Aus), J-M Olazabal (Sp), T Johnstone (Zim), J Robson, D Clarke, P Curry, G Nicklaus (US), R Drummond, T Charnley, D J Russell, D Feherty, C Mason, B Ogle (Aus), F Lindgren (Swe). Selected: 76 S Ballesteros (Sp).