Golf: Clarke clings to hope of takeover

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WHOEVER EMERGES as the winner of the One-2-One British Masters today, and presumably there will be one, he will have faced a harder journey than the blackguard who drove away with Tony Johnstone's Subaru WRX from the car park on Friday evening. The congestion has been all on the scoreboard and Johnstone's misery was heightened by the fact that, at five over par, he was one of the few players in the field without a realistic hope of victory.

Darren Clarke has been the only constant feature of the leaderboard and some found that sudden elevation into the higher echelons to be all too brief. Soft greens after overnight rain made putting a tricky business and, with a gusting wind to contend with, scoring was not easy.

Marc Farry, the Frenchman, scored a 67 early in the day to get to four under and was two strokes behind the leaders before they teed off but improved further as he sat in the clubhouse. From being in the fifth group off yesterday morning, Farry will be able to enjoy a lie-in before teeing off at lunchtime today.

He was one behind Switzerland's Paolo Quirici, who birdied the 16th and 17th and made a brave up and down from a bunker at the last to get in with a 70. Clarke went the other way to fall back to four under, where he also found Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance and Mark Roe, who was knocked out on this course by an amateur's wayward shot during the pro-am event three years ago.

Clarke is looking for more than closing the pounds 5,500 gap between himself and Lee Westwood at the top of the order of merit. Westwood has hit his worst spell for more than two years and the Irishman has taken advantage by finishing in the top four in four of his last five tournaments. But he has not added to his only victory of the year in the Benson and Hedges International. Now would be a good time to do so, with four spots still to be filled in the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth next month.

Montgomerie, who is lying third on the money list, maintains that he has no interest in winning a sixth Vardon Trophy. The Scot's intention yesterday was to move up to within three of the lead and he achieved that with a 70. "But it was disappointing as I left a lot of shots on the course," he noted. "I can't afford to do that today. This is the closest tournament I have known here."

Last year, Montgomerie, who has a win and three second place finishes in his last four outings on the Forest of Arden course, closed with a 63 to finish as the runner-up to Greg Turner. More of the same could be on view today as Monty feels he is over his wayward spell that cost him two missed cuts last month.

"It is nice to know I am back in contention and that whatever it was has gone away," he added. "I am doing the hard stuff well and the bad stuff badly." But as for the money list, he would not be tempted. "It's a thing that doesn't interest me. It's been done. If I win again, so what?"

Westwood, at level par after a 73, does not consider he is out of the running but his choice of verb for what he might have to do today told everything about how he is playing. "I can still `squawf' it round in 65 and give myself half a chance," he said.

"It is not like I shot 80, which hitting it the way I am, I probably should have done," he added. "My confidence from tee-to-green is as low as ever. I stood over a wedge shot at the 16th and knew it was going in the water."

Only a few weeks ago the 25-year-old could do no wrong, but such is the fickle nature of the golf swing. Westwood had no idea whether his game would suddenly click back into place or whether it would require some hard labour on the practice range to restore it. "I have never played as badly for as long before," he said.

At least the extra practice, should it be necessary, will not further damage his back. A specialist has located the problem which resulted in a sore hip and x-rays have shown that there is nothing seriously wrong. Westwood has been receiving physiotherapy twice a day. "I can't use the injury as an excuse," he admitted.