Golf: Clarke wins heavyweight clash

SUNDAYS in Thame have been anything but for Colin Montgomerie. Although his score, like the weather, was a tremendous improvement on Sabbaths' past, the Scot was unable to resist Darren Clarke's charge to victory in the Benson and Hedges International.

Montgomerie spent most of the day beside himself but despite this enlarged target, luck resolutely managed to avoid him. `Philosophical' would be one description of the look on Monty's face after picking up just two birdies during his 72, but it would not necessarily be the right one. Putts stopped on lips, balls spun off greens, chips were duffed and not for the first time the speed cameras on the M40 would have been all a blur last night.

Instead, it was the other member of the heavyweight final pairing who prevailed. Clarke made five birdies in his front nine of 32 and defended his lead stoutly on the way home to claim the pounds 125,000 first prize.

More of a threat than his playing partner, early on, was Massimo Florioli. The Italian's birdie-bogey run between the second and the sixth had his name appearing and disappearing from the top of the leaderboard like the chief minister of San Marino trying repeatedly to gatecrash the G8 summit.

Florioli finished at 11 under, tied with Thomas Bjorn, whose 67 he said could have been a 60. The Dane played "the best golf of my life" but when he last raided Clarke's garageful of putters, obviously picked wrong. Santiago Luna also shot a 67, as did Clarke, to finished three behind the winner in second. The Northern Irishman sealed his victory with a superb approach to a foot at the 16th.

Clarke, 29, was none too happy to qualify for the Ryder Cup at Valderrama and then only get to play once before the singles. He also set out to do what he narrowly failed to do on several occasions last year, namely to win. This was his third on the European tour but it has taken eight season to reach that mark.

"It was frustrating last year to finish second a few times so it is nice to win one of our bigger tournaments," Clarke said. "My game is improving all the time and there is room for more improvement. My head can come off quickly but this week I was very patient and the right things happened for me. I took my chances on the front nine and then just held on."

Montgomerie has helped Clarke in the past with some friendly advice and gave him a putting tip on Tuesday after winning pounds 20 in a practice match. "Darren deserved to win," Monty said. "He got more confident on the greens as I lost my confidence. That is the worst I have ever putted in a tournament when I have been in contention - and I've been in contention an awful lot."

Jose Maria Olazabal closed with his best round of the week, a 68, which took him top of the European money list. However, the Spaniard is still complaining at his ability, or lack thereof as he sees it, to drive the ball. The only fairways he hit with his driver came at the first and the third.

Appointments with John Jacobs, the only man Olazabal has ever listened to about his swing, have been made for Tuesday and Wednesday but today the Spaniard is due to play in a made-for-TV skills challenge at Wentworth. "I am thinking of skipping the driving section," he said.

"I am ashamed at the way I am driving the ball," he added. "It could not be any worse. I have to do something about it soon." The obvious deadline, it was suggested to him, is next month's US Open. "Or before I die, anyway," came the reply. "And that's thinking short term."

At least he could laugh. It remains to be seen how phlegmatic Justin Rose will be once he leaves the ranks of the unpaid golfers, but he has already developed many professional tendencies. Complaining about some aspect of the game is essential.

Finishing the tournament at two under par, the 17-year-old suggested his putter would not still be in one piece once no one was looking. "My putter did not really behave itself this week, except for my 68 on Friday," Rose said. "I'm always moaning about my putting, as good putters usually do."

BENSON AND HEDGES INTERNATIONAL OPEN (The Oxfordshire, Thame) Leading final-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 273 D Clarke 70 69 67 67. 276 S Luna (Sp) 69 71 69 67. 277 T Bjorn (Den) 68 74 68 67; M Florioli (It) 68 67 71 71. 278 R Goosen (SA) 71 68 71 68; C Montgomerie 69 68 69 72. 279 M Mouland 70 70 70 69; R Davis (Aus) 70 70 70 69; G Turner (NZ) 72 67 69 71; P Sjoland (Swe) 67 72 68 72. 280 JM Olazabal (Sp) 72 70 70 68; B Davis 69 70 72 69; P Lawrie 67 73 70 70; G Evans 67 71 69 73. 281 P Price 69 67 73 72; B May (US) 71 67 71 72; P Haugsrud (Nor) 69 68 71 73. 282 A Sherborne 69 75 70 68; S Cage 69 71 71 71; I Woosnam 71 70 70 71; P Mitchell 74 68 69 71; B Lane 69 66 75 72; R Claydon 69 73 67 73. 283 P McGinley 69

73 73 68; P Fulke (Swe) 71 72 70 70; P Baker 73 66 73 71; P Affleck 68 73 71 71; S Kjeldsen (Den) 70 71 71 71; S Henderson 69 71 70 73; G Brand Jnr 70 71 69 73; D Carter 69 73 68 73; R Allenby (Aus) 71 69 69 74. 284 G Owen 73 71 72 68; C Suneson (Spa) 69 73 72 70; K Tomori (Japan) 72 70 72 70; P Curry 69 73 68 74; J Spence 70 69 70 75. 285 B Dredge 68 72 76 69; P O'Malley (Aus) 69 73 73 70; M Gronberg (Swe) 70 74 71 70; J Lomas 70 72 71 72; J Payne 73 69 70 73; F Tarnaud (Fra) 71 72 69 73. 286 S Struver (Ger) 70 71 72 73; A Coltart 72 69 71 74; *J Rose 72 68 72 74; S Leaney (Aus) 70 71 71 74; D Robertson 67 74 71 74. 287 D Edlund (Swe) 74 67 76 70; W Westner (SA) 70 72 74 71; G Chalmers (Aus) 71 73 70 73; D Lynn 69 74 71 73. 288 S Bennett 73 68 75 72; G Orr 69 74 73 72; D Smyth 69 74 73 72; R Derksen (Neth) 71 69 74 74; M Campbell (NZ) 72 71 71 74; M Hallberg (Swe) 69 72 71 76; D Howell 71 71 70 76. 289 P Harrington 70 72 74 73. 290 E Darcy 74 70 70 76. 291 C Van der Velde (Neth) 70 74 75 72; T Gogele (Ger) 73 71 70 77. 292 C Watts 69 74 76 73; A Hunter 72 72 73 75. 293 L Westwood 71 69 77 76; C Mason 73 70 73 77. 296 M Tunnicliff 71 73 74 78. 297 W Riley (Aus) 71 72 78 76. 307 A Forsbrand (Swe) 76 68 78 85. * denotes amateur

Britain's Lisa Hackney, last year's top rookie, made a late charge to join Se Ri Pak of South Korea on eight under at the top of the leaderboard after the third round of the LPGA Championship in Wilmington, Delaware. Hackney bogeyed twice on the front nine, but came back with a bogey-free back nine including four birdies for a two-under 69.

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