Clarke the gambler continues his tempestuous affair with Troon

Over the past two years Darren Clarke has worked hard on his weight and his patience. It is an ongoing tussle. Through diligent attention to diet he is no longer a fat golfer but there is still room for improvements in temperament.

Over the past two years Darren Clarke has worked hard on his weight and his patience. It is an ongoing tussle. Through diligent attention to diet he is no longer a fat golfer but there is still room for improvements in temperament.

Furious after a double bogey at the final hole of his first round on Thursday sent him back to two-under par, Clarke could barely bring himself to even look at his caddy Pete Coleman who must wonder sometimes whether it is worth working for such a difficult employer.

Before Clarke began to address a naturally fiery response to the frustrations that can eat into the confidence of even the most accomplished golfers he would have gone straight from the scorer's hut to the car park and wallowed in self pity. You know the sort of thing - "God, why does this keep happening to me?"

That Clarke agreed to come under interrogation suggested a big change in attitude, but yesterday he was back with the problem. Going off at two under with Adam Scott and the veteran Kenny Perry, the Irishman settled down quickly, making birdies at the 4th and the 7th, getting himself back to four-under par. He had many supporters in the gallery and they roared their approval. Clarke smiled as though his relationship with Troon was at its warmest.

Actually, it is like a tempestuous love affair. He holds the course in deep affection and believes that it suits his game, but he must wonder sometimes if it can be trusted.

When in contention for the 1997 Open at Troon his drive from the second tee was shanked 210 yards on to a neighbouring beach. It was the shock of such an aberration as much as the damage done to his score that put paid to Clarke's chances. During a practice round on Tuesday, Clarke revisited the scene of that disaster, and was unable to accept that he'd hit the shot so far right. "People must have got it wrong," he said. "It must have been the third hole."

When Clarke reached the 8th, the famous Postage Stamp, yesterday he had enough forward momentum to suppose that he could post a low score, maybe even lead the field. Instead, he dropped a shot. The frown returned. Worse would follow.

Just when it seemed that a run of straight pars had restored his composure he made a mess of the par-five, 16th, a hole of 542 yards. Taking an iron off the tee he sent the ball to within just four feet of a burn.

It was then that the gambler in him took over. Knowing when it is wise to play safe is one of the most important factors in the strategy of links golf. Nobody knows this better than Clarke but he chose to take the risky option.

There did not appear to be much wrong with the swing he made with a metal three, but the ball veered off line in the breeze and ended up plugged in a front bunker. His recovery just rolled into the next bunker. He came out too hard and missed a 10ft putt. The eagle that had been in his mind had become a bogey. Looking back at the sand, he muttered a series of earthy oaths.

Clarke was now seriously at odds with himself, a fact noted by Perry, a man of placid temperament. "These courses can get to you, and over the last five holes Darren's frustration began to show," he would later say.

As Clarke watched his tee shot at the par-three 17th heading right, he could not resist a sarcastic comment. "Go in and get plugged for a change," he said. A pitch from a gully below the green finished short; he missed the putt; another shot gone.

At the 18th, Clarke gave himself a chance of making birdie but missed the putt. A score of one under was not what he had had in mind. He stood there expressionless, back with the demands. "I left shots out there," he said. "I set up birdies and didn't make them." Then he was on his way.

By contrast Perry was a picture of calm satisfaction. One of the oldest players in the field, he could be described as a late developer. Last year he won three times on the American tour, establishing himself as a calm technician.

This is Perry's third appearance in The Open. On his first visit, at Birkdale in 1991, he failed to make the cut. Returning to play at Sandwich last year he finished eighth.

"I was fortunate enough to watch Darren play this golf course," he said. "It seemed like he was always ahead of me, he was always hitting first, so I was always taking notes from this guy."

Setting off at two under, and finding trouble on the front nine, Perry made four birdies on his homeward journey to repair the damage. He sounded a contented man.

Maybe it is Clarke who should be taking the notes.

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