Clarke takes high ground to give Bjorn rub of green

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The Ulsterman, resuming two clear after play had been abandoned, just west of Dublin, due to waterlogging on Sunday, expected to find his ball in the heavy rough on the right of the ninth. Explaining what happened next, Clarke said: "Yesterday I had a very poor lie, but when I got back out this morning, either a lot of people had been looking for it, or a lot of people had flattened the grass around it and it was in a much better position than where I'd left it."

The 37-year-old asked an official what he should do, but was told he should play it from where it was as it was purely "rub of the green". Feeling obviously uncomfortable, Clarke decided to pitch it out sideways on to the fairway. "It's the only way I can keep my conscience clear," he told the referee.

From there Clarke inevitably made a bogey, when the kinder lie he had every right under the rules to play from could have seen him make par or even birdie. "I could have hit it on to the green with a seven iron," Clarke said, "but if I had done so I would have had to hold my head in shame walking all the way to the green so I just decided to chip it out and play it like I would have yesterday."

Last night, Clarke's integrity was being applauded throughout the game, with Howard Clark, the former Ryder Cup player, saying: "I'm not sure if many other players would have acted in the same manner and not simply taken the luck that had befallen them."

Indeed, it was impossible not to let the mind wander back to last year's "Jakartagate" scandal, when television pictures showed Colin Montgomerie quite clearly playing his ball from a much easier position than it had been in before a weather delay. Clarke was known to be outraged at Montgomerie and yesterday's selfless actions must have made a point or two.

However, all Clarke would say was: "It's just part and parcel of the game." He might have been hailed as the moral winner, but in Clarke's mind he was still the day's loser. "This was a tournament I really wanted to win," he admitted, "and I'm a gutted to have finished bogey-par-bogey."

Until the 16th he had appeared almost certain to be on his way to Ireland's first Irish Open victory since John O'Leary in 1982 at Portmarnock.

The emotion would not have stopped there, either, as Clarke has endured such a horrific last 12 months, with his wife, Heather, still fighting cancer, that a victory for him would have been welcomed by all. Alas, as it turned out his short game let him down - especially on the par-five 18th where he took four to get down from about 40 yards - and together with the bogey he forced on himself on the ninth this all served to peg him back to three-under, two strokes behind the winning total.

At least, he could sit back and watch Bjorn, his friend and fellow Liverpool fan, settle his own score. Bjorn's last tournament in Ireland - just up the road at the K Club - saw him squander a four-shot lead with an 86 in last July's European Open, and the Dane had also walked out of the same tournament the year before after just six holes, citing "inner demons". Yesterday was the closure he needed.

"This country owed me one, that's for sure," Bjorn said, after recovering from an opening 78, the worst first-round for an eventual winner on the European Tour in 31 years. "This was important for me, an important place for me to do it. It opens up a lot of things for me. I've given myself a chance of making the Ryder Cup."

He did so with a nerveless birdie-birdie finish, just as his playing partner, Paul Casey, seemed poised to capitalise on Clarke's dreary ending. The young Englishman was on something of a demon hunt himself, having chucked away a healthy lead in last week's British Masters, but the manner in which he stuck to his task to finish in outright second was highly commendable. But still, the bulk of the praise headed towards the man in third.

"Darren is as good a sportsman as you are ever likely to find," Bjorn said. "He realises the game is much bigger than any one person. Professionals have a duty to set an example to amateurs all over the world about how golf should be played. And there is no better example than Darren Clarke and what he did today."

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