Clarke edges ahead after Funk shoots stunning 62

Darren Clarke made a strong start to his second round and surged into the lead at the NEC Invitational yesterday.

The Ulsterman opened with a par but thrust himself to the fore by sinking a 15-foot eagle putt on the second as the joint overnight leader, Ben Curtis, dropped a shot at the start of his second circuit of Firestone .

Clarke maintained his momentum at the 442-yard third by sinking a nine-foot birdie to go two shots clear, while Curtis and his fellow overnight leader, Sergio Garcia, struggled. Both found the water at the third, after putting their tee shots in trees on either side of the fairway. The Spaniard Garcia dropped two shots, but Curtis produced a good pitch and escaped with a bogey.

All the players at the front of the field overnight were battling to compete with a dazzling performance put in by the American Fred Funk, who followed his opening 72 with a wonderful 62.

The 47-year-old, who in an inspired display sank a 120-yard pitch shot on the first and then holed a bunker shot at the short 15th, had moved all the way from joint 49th into a share of top spot by the time joint overnight leaders teed off again.

Curtis unexpectedly won the Open but Funk had a miserable time at Royal St George's and was keen to let everyone know just what a bad time he had in Kent. "I shouldn't say I hated the golf course, but I hated the golf course," he said. looking back to his cut-missing performance of 75 and 80. "When I played six holes in Sunday's practice round I wanted to get back on the plane again. I was standing on the tee and didn't know where to aim it. It didn't reward good golf shots, I thought. When you had fairways like one, nine, 17 and 18 it really was nearly impossible to keep a ball in the fairway. I just don't understand that concept of design."

He was paired yesterday with England's Paul Casey, another highly critical of the Sandwich lay-out after scoring a first-round 85. He, too, was happier here after coming in with a 66. Four over par after 16 holes of his first round Casey birdied the last two holes and then resumed this morning with two more.

Nec Invitational (Firestone CC, Akron, Ohio) Early leading second-round scores (US unless stated): 134 F Funk 72 62. 137 P Jacobsen 73 64. 138 P Casey (GB) 72 66, S Flesch 71 67, T Immelman (SA) 70 68. 140 N Price (Zim) 73 67; A Cejka (Ger) 72 68, C Howell 72 68, S Micheel 71 69, L Westwood (GB) 70 70. 141 N Faldo (GB) 74 67; I Poulter (GB) 73 68; L Mattiace 72 69; H Otto (SA) 72 69; J Haas 72 69, P Azinger 72 69, A Cabrera (Arg) 70 71, S Cink 70 71, Toshimitsu Izawa (Japan) 70 71, P McGinley (Irl) 70 71. 142 S Allan (Aus) 74 68, T Clark (SA) 73 69, A Scott (Aus) 72 70. 143 R-J Derksen (Neth) 73 70. 144 S Leaney (Aus) 75 69, J Leonard 75 69, B Burns 74 70, C Campbell 73 71, K J Choi (S Kor) 73 71, P Harrington (Irl) 73 71, K Yokoo (Japan) 73 71, R Karlsson (Swe) 72 72, P Fulke (Swe) 72 72, T Bjorn (Den) 72 72, B Langer (Ger) 71 73, E Romero (Arg) 70 74. 145 P Golding (GB) 76 69. Leading first-round scores: 64 B Curtis, S Garcia (Sp). 65 D Clarke (GB), T Woods. 66 D Toms, C Riley, S Verplank, D Love.

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