Golf: New arrival gives Clarke a winning perspective

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FATHERHOOD CLEARLY agrees with Darren Clarke. "I have hardly touched a club for two weeks," he said. "My time has been demanded elsewhere." Tyrone Clarke's father played the doting dad to the extent of missing last week's US PGA Championship in Seattle.

But a full-night's sleep was all the preparation the 30-year-old Irishman needed before scoring a 69 in the first round of the Smurfit European Open. Clarke was one behind the Swede Mathias Gronberg, who put his more even temperament of late down to getting engaged three months ago.

Andrew Chandler, Clarke's manager, is on record as saying becoming a father could be the making of the Ryder Cup player as a golfer. "As you are aware, I tend to get upset occasionally with my golf when I don't play so well," Clarke said. "I think from a couple of weeks ago when Tyrone was born, that's all changed.

"My perspective on life now is completely changed. I've got a beautiful wife and son who are much more important than my golf. That takes the pressure off my golf and lets me go and play and accept whatever happens as opposed to getting annoyed about my bad shots."

A good example came right at the beginning of his round. Clarke pushed his opening drive at the 10th into the rough and dropped a shot. He then also pushed his drive at the next but holed from 40 feet across the green for a birdie. Another poor drive at the 14th cost another dropped shot. From then on, he was four under for 13 holes, an eight-iron to a foot at the 15th and a 60-footer at the sixth bringing two of his birdies.

This was a day that had little resemblance with summer due to the strong, blustery winds and afternoon rain. Only seven players broke par at the K Club. Both Clarke's playing partners, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam, scored 73s, while Lee Westwood slumped to a 77. A missed cut from the money list leader would encourage second-placed Clarke to close the gap and even overtake his friend.

Payne Stewart, the former US Open champion, also scored a 77, which backed up Clarke's theory that it is becoming more difficult for such visiting Americans to win while on a busman's holiday in Europe. "The standard in Europe is rising and rising," Clarke said.

Alex Hay, the television commentator, agreed, saying: "Five or six years ago there was a small pyramid of players capable of winning, but now it is an entire office block." Something Nick Faldo may have to bear in mind when he returns in a fortnight in search of Ryder Cup points and some confidence-boosting high finishes.

Montgomerie's renewed attempts to hit a fade seemed to be working when he reached two under but he dropped three shots in the last six holes. "I could have done without a gale-force wind to try something new," Monty said. Justin Rose, hoping to stay for his first weekend as a professional, increased his chances by birdieing the last two holes in his 76.