Clarke warms up for US Open with cruise in the rain

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In Shakespeare's county As You Like It should be the preferred reference work for Darren Clarke. He likes the Forest of Arden very much indeed. A man for all seasons he might have felt he was walking on water yesterday as he secured victory in the English Open, leading from beginning to end.

They battened down the hatches and sailed through an unseasonal squall which, had this not been the final round, would have caused play to be suspended. They needed a wetsuit and a barometer as well as a compass to negotiate their way around here and in the end Clarke emerged, once again, as head forester.

In recording his ninth victory on the European Tour, the Irishman became the first player to win the English Open three times – not quite covering all points of the compass – scoring a 68 in the final round for a 17-under-par total of 271 and that was too good for the best of the rest. It was Clarke's first win of the season, he pocketed £133,000 and the timing of the victory was sweet. Today he flies to New York to prepare for this week's US Open at Bethpage State Park, a pay-and-play course where the players will only be required to play.

Clarke will partner Tiger Woods in the first two rounds, an appointment which does not bother him one bit. Yesterday Clarke was paired with the Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin and the duo, the overnight leaders at 13-under, traded blow for blow over the opening four holes.

When Jacquelin, the runner-up here last year, made a bogey at the short fifth, Clarke put clear drizzle between himself and the field. He had birdies at the sixth and the seventh and obliterated a dropped shot at the ninth with an eagle at the 12th. Game over.

A bogey at the ninth, a par four of 476 yards, was almost obligatory, the hole being virtually unreachable in two. Everybody on the leaderboard scored a five or worse there, including Soren Hansen.

One stroke behind the leaders after the third round, the Dane blew hot and cold, producing birdies and bogeys almost in equal measure. However, Hansen finished in style with birdies at the last three holes, a 70 putting him at 14-under and in second place, three strokes behind Clarke and two in front of Jacquelin and the Welshman Phillip Price. Steve Webster, Hansen's playing partner, took four putts at the par-three eighth and never recovered. When you are looking at a putt for a birdie two and you finish with a five, it makes a hard day worse.

The sponsors may not commit themselves to another term which leaves a question mark over the English Open. "It's a good tournament at a delightful venue but where are the crowds?'' a spokesman said. He might have added: "Where are the players?" Being staged a week before the US Open is not a date to attract the crème de la crème and there is the little matter of the World Cup, not to mention the weather. No wonder Compass are taking a raincheck.