Davis leads as Clarke is lifted by hole in one

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The Independent Online

Brian Davis and his fellow Englishman Luke Donald, with Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, set the pace at the Nissan Open in Los Angeles yesterday - Clarke with the help of a hole in one.

Brian Davis and his fellow Englishman Luke Donald, with Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, set the pace at the Nissan Open in Los Angeles yesterday - Clarke with the help of a hole in one.

Clarke achieved the feat at the 199-yard sixth with a seven-iron to leapfrog over Tiger Woods, who is poised to go back to the top of the world rankings this weekend, with a morning five-under-par 66. As rain hit the Riviera Country Club course Davis came in with a 65 and later in the day Donald briefly joined him on six under before closing with a bogey five.

Davis, the winner of the PGA Tour qualifying school in December, hit a marvellous four-iron to four feet for an opening eagle, turned in a five-under 30 and then added another birdie at the 10th. He could not maintain that form, but finishing with eight pars was no mean feat as the weather worsened.

Yet despite the conditions Donald, who finished joint second to Woods in the Buick Invitational three weeks ago, birdied five of the first six holes on the outward half after covering the back nine first in 34.

On the 458-yard ninth, however, he could not save par after missing the green and so fell into a tie for second with Clarke, the American Brett Quigley and the Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, who still had three to play in his search for a third successive victory in the event.

Davis, disappointed to miss out on a Ryder Cup spot last September after missing the cut in the final qualifying tournament, said: "Winning the tour school was obviously a great boost to my confidence." A week ago he missed the cut at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but commented: "I thought somebody had closed the hole up there, but today was completely different - the putts went in."

Clarke, playing the back nine first, came to life on the front. One under at the turn, he followed a two-putt birdie at the first with a pitch to four feet on the third. Then came the hole in one.

"It pitched behind the flag and trickled back in. A little bit of skill and a lot of luck," he said. Television replays showed the ball was still travelling at speed as it hit the flag and dropped.

Clarke, whose wife, Heather, is battling cancer, has forgotten how many holes in one he has hit - he thinks about 25 - but at least this one came in competition. Last season he he hit two in practice for majors. "Overall, I didn't hit it the way I wanted to, but I ground it out and five under is a good start," he added.

Davis has also had some family concerns of late, his father-in-law, Ray Clemence, the former England goalkeeper, having being recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and his son going down with suspected pneumonia last month.

Ian Poulter managed only a 74, while his Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood shot 70 and David Howell 72.

Woods, needing a top-four finish to reclaim the world No 1 spot from Vijay Singh, who is taking the week off, birdied five of his first 10 holes but then took three putts at the fourth and fifth before picking up another shot at the eighth to finish with a 67.

In Kuala Lumpur, the defending champion, Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, birdied his last three holes en route to a six-under-par 66 to lead the Malaysian Open after the second round. He was two strokes ahead of the Dane Thomas Bjorn, who celebrated his 34th birthday by scoring a superb 64.

In Adelaide, Steven Bowditch, of Australia, opened up a five-stroke lead in the South Australian Open. The 21-year-old shot a second consecutive round of five-under-par 67 to reach the half-way stage at 10 under. The American Chris Tidland shot a 68, the second-best round of the day, to move into a six-way tie for second at five under.

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