Clarke claims share of lead as Harrington hangs on

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If they are not very careful, the Irish will get used to winning on home soil. Last year at Druids Glen the Britain and Ireland team, or Ireland and Britain as it was known here, won the Seve Trophy. If that only strictly counted as three-tenths of a win, they will take it since the only individual to achieve victory on home soil in the last 21 years was Darren Clarke two years ago.

Clarke was making another run at the European Open at the K Club here yesterday, a 68 taking him into a share for the halfway lead with Phillip Price at nine under. But last year's runner-up, Padraig Harrington, made the cut only by birdieing the last hole.

A bogey at the 17th left the world No 8 at three over par. "I didn't think I could make the cut unless I made an eagle," he said. In attempting to cut the corner of the dogleg he found a bunker and thought his chance had gone until his caddie informed him that two over would be all right.

Harrington laid up from the sand and then hit a sand wedge to 25ft behind the hole. The putt moved 18 inches from left-to-right and was travelling when it dived into the cup for the birdie he needed. "After two weeks off I need two more days on the course to improve rather than two more days practising," he said.

"I don't think I can win now, but it will be good to be out there. I am swinging the club well but I'm not scoring well. Take that sand wedge at the last. It felt perfect but it went 25ft on. Every time I hit a bad shot it felt like I dropped a shot whereas on other days you might get away with it."

Clarke, who birdied two of the last three holes, was just relieved to avoid hitting the wife of one of his playing partners as he had done on Thursday. Tracey Leaney, whose husband was the US Open runner-up, is six months pregnant. She escaped with only a small cut.

Having not been the tidiest off the tee in the first round, Clarke phoned his coach Butch Harmon in America. It was not a good moment. "He was just about to get into a bobsleigh," Clarke revealed. "I said he would look very nice in a Lycra suit. I haven't spoken to him since so I hope he's OK. Even though he had not seen me play, he could tell me a couple of things to work on."

What has been the key for Clarke over the past two days, however, was his putting, a perennial worry this season. But the work he has done with Harold Swash in widening his stance and weakening his grip has paid dividends. "It's changed the whole way of playing the golf course," he said.

"I am stroking it better and hitting better quality putts and that takes the pressure off missing the green and trying to get up and down. The game has become a bit easier than it was."

Price was the only one of the overnight leaders to maintain his position, with a 69 in which he did not drop a stroke. A former Pontypridd man of the year, his moving house has resulted him in being the Newport man of the year for the last two years.

Alastair Forsyth shared third place on eight under with Charl Schwartzel, who had a 64, which will probably be considered a course record but is still short of Clarke's 60 here from four years ago. Schwartzel is a rookie from South Africa who is still only 18, although he has now missed out on beating his compatriot Dale Hayes's record as the youngest winner on the European Tour.

Andrew Coltart, among those on seven under, scored a 70 which was commendable for being compiled alongside an 87 from Emanuele Canonica. The third member of the group, Patrik Sjoland did not make it to the tee after suffering stomach cramps.

The 40-year-old Colin Montgomerie had one of his more erratic 71s to be five under. He was level par for the first seven holes with four birdies, two bogeys and a double, then parred the next 10 holes before a cheering birdie at the last.

SMURFIT EURPOPEAN OPEN (K Club, Co Kildare) Leading early second round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 135 P Price 66 69, D Clarke 67 68. 136 A Forsyth 66 70, C Schwartzel (SA) 72 64. 137 A Coltart 67 70, M McNulty (Zim) 68 69, E Romero (Arg) 69 68. 138 J Sandelin (Swe) 72 66. 139 A Cabrera (Arg) 70 69, C Montgomerie 68 71. 140 B Langer (Ger) 73 67, R Goosen (SA) 66 74, B Lane 70 70. 141 M James 72 69, M Roe 71 70, F Andersson (Swe) 67 74, J Donaldson 71 70. 142 D Lynn 71 71, B Davis 76 66, R Muntz (Neth) 73 69, M Olander (Swe) 71 71, G Murphy 67 75, S Hansen (Den) 67 75, M Blackey 73 69, M Tunnicliff 74 68, N O'Hern (Aus) 70 72, R Jacquelin (Fr) 72 70, T Bjorn (Den) 71 71. 143 R Chapman 70 73, C Rodiles (Sp) 73 70. 144 P Casey 73 71, M Pilkington 72 72, B Mason 72 72, R Russell 71 73, N Colsaerts (Bel) 75 69. Selected: 146 M A Jimenez (Sp) 74 72, P Harrington 73 73.