Golf: Westwood's 65 shoots down Clarke

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The Independent Online
LAST NIGHT, live on primetime American television, Tiger Woods and David Duval met in an exhibition match. The clamour for the encounter between the top two players on the world ranking list became too strong for the commercial instincts of the TV company and the players' shared agents - Mark McCormack's International Management Group - to ignore, partly because the pair have rarely met head-to-head in the denouement of a proper tournament.

Fortunately, the same is not the problem on this side of the Atlantic. The final two pairings in the last round of the Smurfit European Open featured the tour's top three players, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.

The outcome may have appeared predictable with Clarke holding a six-stroke lead overnight, but for the second week running Westwood mounted a superb last-round charge with a closing 65 to win at 17 under. "Darren will kill me in the locker-room," Westwood smiled. "I didn't think I had a chance last night, but two pints of Guinness did the trick."

For Clarke, the magic of the second and third rounds had gone, and the huge Irish Bank Holiday gallery were to be disappointed in their wish to see a first home winner for 17 years. "I try to beat Lee virtually every week," Clarke said. "I did a 60 and had a hole in one and still couldn't beat him so I don't know what I have to do. I'd have liked to win for all the fans who came along this week but I didn't play as well as I wanted. Lee is a worthy champion. Still, this is one of my most disappointing days ever. It's going to take a long time to get over."

A five-stroke lead after 54 holes had proved enough when Clarke won the English Open in June, but yesterday had overtones of the closing day of the 1996 Masters when Nick Faldo came from six behind Greg Norman to win by five. One difference was that the two protagonists, from the same Andrew Chandler management stable, were not in the same group. Westwood was playing with Montgomerie.

Westwood got off to the perfect start with birdies at two of the first three holes. Having had 12 birdies on Saturday and a hole in one on Sunday, Clarke was out of ammunition and did not pick up a single birdie.

Worse, he had three putts at the sixth and found the water at the seventh for bogeys. Westwood's key run contained four birdies in a row from the seventh, where his second shot at the par-five hole stopped on the fringe by the water. At the ninth he studied the leaderboard before holing a 35-footer and punching the air.

Westwood was now level, but another birdie came after his accurate approach at the 10th, and he led by two as Clarke failed to get up and down from a bunker at the ninth. The Irishman was already a shattered man. He shot a three-over 75 and lost by three, tying for second place with Peter O'Malley.

"It helped knowing I had won from five behind last week," Westwood said. "I decided to concentrate on the front nine. If I could get it out in five under I thought I might have a chance and that's what happened. Even when there is a six-shot lead it is never a formality. I thought I had it won when I holed a nice putt at the 15th, but then I put it in the water on the 16th and made everyone sweat for a while."

Westwood would have matched his closing round of 63 in winning the Dutch Open a week ago had he not double- bogeyed the 16th. That meant O'Malley briefly drew level before himself taking a six at 16.

In heavy rough behind a tree on the left, he did well to get his second shot within inches of the green, but the ball came to rest on rocks by the pond. After a birdie at the 17th, O'Malley could still tie with an eagle at the last, but he drove poorly and closed with a six.

It was Westwood's 16th career win in his 12th country in three years (to the day) and the third time he has won back-to-back tournaments. The last two weeks have brought the 26-year-old just short of pounds 360,000 to move to second behind Montgomerie on the Order of Merit.

His confidence level could not be higher for next week's USPGA in Chicago. "The only thing missing now is a major, so I'm looking forward to Medinah," he said.