Final flourish keeps Clarke in contention

Darren Clarke's attempt to secure the victory that would take him back to the top of the European Order of Merit began with a five-under-par 66 here today. The round, completed with a birdie from a fairway bunker on the 349-yard 18th, left the Ulsterman in joint-third place at the BBVA Turespaña Masters, only two strokes behind the Austrian Markus Brier.

Darren Clarke's attempt to secure the victory that would take him back to the top of the European Order of Merit began with a five-under-par 66 here today. The round, completed with a birdie from a fairway bunker on the 349-yard 18th, left the Ulsterman in joint-third place at the BBVA Turespaña Masters, only two strokes behind the Austrian Markus Brier.

Clarke, hoping to take advantage of Lee Westwood's decision to spend a second successive week at home after his Cisco World Match Play win, was one over par after six holes, but then birdied the seventh and ninth and came home in 31.

"I felt really good before I went out, but when I started I was not quite right and pulled a couple of shots," he said.

The stroke that turned things round was a 242-yard three iron to 20 feet on the long seventh. He two-putted and did not look back on a day that saw Wales' Dunhill Cup pair, Ian Woosnam and David Park, both slump to 76.

Brier, the first Austrian to hold a European Tour card, sank five putts of between 15 and 35 feet to finish one ahead of the local favorite, Santiago Luna. Brier was runner-up in May's Spanish Open in Girona.

Alongside Clarke are Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is trying to take the title for the third year running, and the 44-year-old Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone, who is guarding his putter as though it were part of the crown jewels. A George Nicholl Pinsplitter, the club dates from the 1920s. Johnstone acquired it last week from an American student at St Andrews University and has promised it back when he is fed up with it. That looks a long way off.

Sergio Garcia did best in high-profile group with 68, while his playng partners Paul Lawrie and Andrew Coltart had 70 and 71, respectively.

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