Clarke raises Ryder Cup hopes with spirited comeback

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The Independent Online

Darren Clarke gave the European Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam a boost when he opened with a four-under-par 68 in the Madrid Open at La Moraleja.

The 38-year-old Ulsterman, who was making his first competitive appearance since the death of his wife, Heather, a month ago, fired five birdies and one bogey to trail Jean-Francois Lucquin, of France, by three shots. "I don't want to go out and shoot 73 or 74 and have all you guys on my case," Clarke said after his round. "I was quite pleased to shoot 68. I played very well. I had 31 putts and hit 17 greens. I missed a lot of chances too but I played really well. I wouldn't say there were butterflies on the tee. I am always a little bit apprehensive before playing any tournament round.

"This morning I just wanted to get off to a good start. It was important for me to shoot a good score my first time back. And I did that. As I said, I am not here to make up the numbers, I want to try to contend. I set myself a goal to play well and I did that."

Playing with close friends and former Ryder Cup partners Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez, Clarke started on the back nine and moved quickly to two under par by following a chip-and-putt birdie at the par-five 11th with an eight iron to 15 feet at the 156-yard 13th. He dropped his only shot of the day at the par-five 16th, where his third shot from a sandy lie spun back off the green into another poor lie from where he took three more to get down. But there were few mistakes after that as he came home in three-under-par 33 with further birdies at the second, fourth and ninth.

On playing with Jimenez and Bjorn, two of his closest friends on tour, he said: "It was great. Two of my really good friends and two Ryder Cup partners in the past."

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