Golf: Clarke keeps cool to collect first win: Irishman's run of good form continues as Ballesteros goes awry in Belgian Open

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The Independent Online
DARREN CLARKE kept his nerve yesterday to win his first European PGA Tour event, the Belgian Open at Knokke-le-Zoute.

Clarke, from Bushmills, Co Antrim, admitted later that he was nervous, as he shot a final- round 68 to win by two shots from Nick Faldo and Vijay Singh with a four-round aggregate of 270, 14 under par.

Leading by one at the start of the day, however, Clarke was never headed, although Singh came in with a last- round 64 to pull level with the Irishman who, at that point, still had five holes to play.

But Clarke, who had birdied the second and 12th but bogeyed the third, never faltered and went ahead again with a birdie four at the 15th.

Another birdie at the 17th virtually clinched victory. 'That putt took the pressure off me,' he said. 'Because I could take a bogey at the last and still win.'

Even then he pulled his drive at the 18th into thick rough, but played a superb nine-iron on to the green and two putts gave him the title.

Faldo, playing as consistently as ever, shot a final round 67, four under par, to play all four rounds in under 70. He finished with birdies at the last two holes to add to the pressure on Clarke, playing two holes behind him.

Seve Ballesteros, with a 70, finished three shots behind Clarke at 11 under par, but it was a sad day for the Spaniard who had been hoping to win the tournament and maintain his record of winning an event every year since 1976.

Clarke, who changed to graphite shafts on his irons after the Open championship in July, has now finished in the top eight in five of his last seven tournaments but his outstanding form has come too late to earn him a place in Ireland's Dunhill Cup team at St Andrews next week.

BELGIAN OPEN (Royal Zoute Golf Club, Knokke-le-Zoute) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 270 D Clarke 68 68 66 68. 272 N Faldo 68 68 69 67; V Singh (Fiji) 68 69 71 64. 273 B Langer (Ger) 72 64 72 65; G Brand jnr 66 71 68 68; R Davis (Aus) 74 67 64 68; S Ballesteros (Sp) 67 65 71 70. 274 J Van de Velde (Fr) 70 68 66 70. 275 B Lane 71 69 69 66. 276 G Turner (NZ) 70 68 72 66; E Romero (Arg) 70 69 69 68. 277 T Pernice (US) 70 66 72 69; D Feherty 69 69 69 70; S Torrance 71 68 67 71. 278 G Evans 68 75 68 67; C Rocca (It) 67 71 71 69; J Coceres (Arg) 70 69 70 69. 279 I Woosnam 72 70 72 65; M Sunesson (Swe) 75 68 70 66; J-M Canizares (Sp) 68 69 71 71; D Frost (SA) 69 68 71 71; W Westner (SA) 70 67 71 71. Selected: 280 J Haeggman (Swe) 72 70 65. 282 R Rafferty 72 67 71 72; C Montgomerie 72 71 67 72.

European Tour Order of Merit,

Sporting Digest, page 29

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