Clarke's resilience keeps him on course

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Darren Clarke is not always the most cool and collected person on the course so the rest need to watch out on those occasions that he is.

Darren Clarke is not always the most cool and collected person on the course so the rest need to watch out on those occasions that he is.

"I am very much at ease on the course this week," Clarke said. "I've not got upset so far. The last time I felt like this was at La Costa." That Californian venue marks the high point of Clarke's career to date, his victory in the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay, beating Tiger Woods in the final.

Yesterday, Clarke's 69 left him on seven-under-par after two rounds of the Volvo Masters in Montecastillo. The Swede Pierre Fulke led on nine under with Jose Maria Olazabal one behind after a bogey-free 69. Clarke dropped two shots on the front nine, but confirmed his resilient attitude by playing the last 11 holes in three under. While conditions were better than on the previous day, the breeze was still tricky enough to cause problems. But not to the two-ball of Fredrick Jacobson and Stephen Leaney. Jacobson had nine birdies in a 65 and Leaney six in his 66.

While they shared third place with Clarke, Colin Montgomerie lurked a shot further back after a second successive 69. If those in front of Monty were looking in their rear-view mirror, as the Scot hoped, his image would have been mighty small for most of the day.

Montgomerie was stuck at level par for the round until he holed-in-one with a six-iron at the 174-yard 14th, an effort that almost went unwitnessed. There were about 30 people on the 14th tee who were blinded by the sun and just one, a scorer, by the green. "There was a pregnant pause," Monty said. "We could not see if it had gone in from the tee and the only person by the green could not clap because he had his hands full. Then he put down his pad and pen and started applauding."

Montgomerie's face broke out into a blushing beam, in stark contrast to the thunderous look that greeted the holing a long putt for a par-five two holes earlier. "Of all the holes-in-one I've had, that was one of the best shots," he said.

"I was more pleased about it being an eagle to get me back in the tournament. Things weren't going so well but after that you think it might just be your week."

Montgomerie's target for the weekend is two rounds of 67. Clarke, however, was not concerned about the Scot's presence in his rear-view mirror. "If you are asking if I am intimidated by anyone then I'm a bit long in the tooth for that," said the Irishman. "My wife, maybe, but no one else."

Clarke's chances of overhauling Lee Westwood's £47,000 lead at the top of the Order of Merit were doubly improved as Westwood's 69 could only get him back to one over par. "I am not playing particularly well," said Westwood. "I'm just going through the motions."

Westwood was never in danger of missing the cut because there isn't one here. The élite 66-man field are all guaranteed a cheque tomorrow evening, down to a minimum of £5,250. That might be sound if all the players had qualified on their performances this season.

There is a mop-up clause, however, to include those category one members not otherwise qualified. The quintet of Costantino Rocca, Tony Johnstone, Seve Ballesteros, Mike Harwood and Ronan Rafferty were a collective 22 over par. A small number of the worst stragglers should perhaps be saved from further punishment. A nominal cut would add spice to the first two days.

Jacobson and Leaney have a different problem. A high finish here could get them into the £3m AmEx World Championship next week at Valderrama. But both are thinking of playing in America next year and were due to go to the States for their Qualifying School.

VOLVO MASTERS (Jerez, Sp) Leading second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 135 P Fulke (Swe) 67 68. 136 J M Olazabal (Sp) 67 69. 137 F Jacobson (Swe) 72 65, S Leaney (Aus) 71 66, D Clarke 68 69. 138 C Montgomerie 69 69. 139 R Wessels (SA) 71 68, R Gonzalez (Arg) 71 68, A Cabrera (Arg) 69 70, G Brand Jnr 69 70, G Owen 68 71. Selected: 141 I Poulter 74 67, P Harrington 72 69. 142 N Faldo 74 68, J Van de Velde (Fr) 74 68, A Coltart 73 69, M A Martin (Sp) 72 70, P Lawrie 72 70, A Cejka (Ger) 72 70, P Senior (Aus) 71 71, E Romero (Arg) 70 72, B Langer (Ger) 70 72, D Robertson 68 74. 143 R Green (Aus) 74 69, P McGinley 73 70, D Howell 72 71, R Goosen (SA) 71 72, P Baker 71 72, P Sjoland (Swe) 71 72, N O'Hern (Aus) 71 72, R Chapman 71 72. 144 M A Jimenez (Sp) 73 71, S Garcia (Sp) 73 71. 145 L Westwood 76 69. 147 C Rocca (It) 73 74, RRafferty 73 74. 152 S Ballesteros (Sp) 80 72, I Woosnam 75 77.