Gallows humour for Clarke but horror 76 is no laughing matter

 

Royal Lytham

The last time Darren Clarke strolled up the 18th fairway at the Open, he knew he was about to claim the Claret Jug and be crowned champion golfer of the year. The memory of that glorious St George's coronation last July came flooding back yesterday as Clarke completed the first round of the defence of his title. What was he thinking? "How the bleep did I ever manage to win this last year," Clarke said with a shrug and a chuckle. It was gallows humour. His six-over-par 76 was no laughing matter.

Indeed, that walk to the final green was more of a stomp to greet the hangman. There was steam rising out of Clarke's head (he was puffing on a cigarette) and his face was redder than an angry tomato. He looked like a pressure cooker about to explode. "I wouldn't pick a fight with him," whispered a spectator as Clarke stared into the distance, or maybe it was the abyss, before playing his approach.

The 43-year-old Ulsterman has a self-confessed short fuse and when he's annoyed and frustrated and the black dog begins to descend, his bark really is as bad as his bite and makes Colin Montgomerie seem like Mother Teresa. So as he stopped to pour over the post-mortem of his disastrous round, it was advisable to treat him as if he had "Danger! Highly Flammable! Handle With Care!" stamped on his forehead.

"I don't think you could publish my thoughts right now," he said, eyes so wide and extended and full of fury that they looked like they were about to pop out of their sockets at any second.

But credit to the Big Man for taking it on the chin like the true defending champion that he is and for keeping that legendary temper in check – at least in public. With no cats readily available to kick, goodness knows what state the door of his locker is in now. "I'm disgusted with myself," Clarke said before taking his leave, followed by his own personal storm cloud.

But it had all started so well. Clarke grinned his way from the practice putting green to the first tee, cheered all the way, before being announced as the Open champion. He hit a beautiful trademark arcing iron to six feet at the par three. Then promptly stabbed the putt wide.

A self-inflicted punch to the solar plexus no sooner than the bell has rung is not exactly the prescribed way to settle the nerves with 17 holes to go. It got worse – quickly. His tee shot at the second skewed right and was heading in the direction of the railway line until it hit a tree.

Earlier in the week, Clarke said that if your ball ends up where he hit it yesterday, you might as well go home. Maybe he was thinking about hopping on the 9.30 train to Preston and heading for Manchester Airport.

"I hit a lovely tee shot at the first and hit a poor putt, and from there it just got worse," Clarke said. "It was disappointing because in practice I hit it really well. But what can I do? I tried my best on every shot, but unfortunately it wasn't there again today. The course is so benign; if you hit good shots you're going to get rewarded. I wasn't able to make any putts at all to gain any momentum. A bad day at the office."

The tally of his shift showed just one birdie roasted by seven bogeys. But the crowd loved him nonetheless and Clarke thanked them with a wave of his visor and a smile.

He looked like he could do with a hug and got one from his pal Ernie Els, one of his playing partners and the 2002 Open champion. Els is just one year younger than Clarke and has been the Big Queasy as much as the Big Easy these last few years. But the South African is ascending another peak of late, shooting a three-under-par 67 here, and showed sympathy for Clarke. "I've been there," Els said. "I was there for over a year. Your confidence is low, you get the wrong bounces. He had quite a few unlucky bounces. It's difficult to get yourself up from there. But he's playing beautifully, he was trying really hard, and his attitude is great."

Clarke will need all the support he can get today, and his share of lucky bounces, if he is to avoid missing the cut. He has made just one weekend all year and that was at his home course at Royal Portrush during the Irish Open.

"The crowd were great today," Clarke said. "They kept shouting for me and showing me support. Unfortunately I couldn't reciprocate." Clarke is a fighter. Royal Lytham can expect some counter-punching in round two.

Shot, shank and strides of the day

Shot of the day

Paul Lawrie pulled out a spectacular finish on five. The Scot launched his ball out of the undergrowth and it skipped across the green and found the hole.

Shank of the day

Padraig Harrington was caught on the fourth as he attempted to clear a bunker. His shot sent both the ball and chunks of earth straight into the sand.

Strides of the day

John Daly wore typically garish trousers, apparently mimicking the Norway flag. Hopefully, their eye-catch-ing qualities will deflect from his faltering display.

Open tweets

Diane Donald (wife of Luke): Cup of coffee in hand ready to watch Luke tee off in the Open Championship! Let's go Luuke!

Ian Poulter Ouch that's got to hurt Rory just pitched it on someone's nut. Ouch. Hope the Lad is ok. Take longer over a shot Keegan wow. 5 minutes for 1 shot. Too long

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Sport
Heskey's aim has improved since the end of his English football career

Long after his career in English football has ended, Emile Heskey's impotency in front of goal remains an object of ridicule.

News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam