Love proves challenge too far for new-model Clarke

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The Independent Online

Darren Clarke had a place in a re-match final with Tiger Woods wrenched from him by Davis Love in a dramatic conclusion to their semi-final at the Accenture World Matchplay. Clarke, who beat Woods to win the 2000 championship at La Costa, went from two-down at the turn to two-up with two to play but could not deny Love.

After the Irishman bogeyed the 17th, Love found the green in two at the par-five last and his birdie sent the match into extra holes. Clarke holed from eight feet at the 19th to stay alive but Love's birdie from 10 feet at the 21st, the short 16th, proved decisive.

Love's previous best performance in this event was as a losing semi-finalist to Woods four years ago. Tiger, the defending champion, will be playing in his third final in five attempts. The world No 1 first got past Padraig Harrington in the quarter-finals and then beat Stephen Leaney 2 and 1 with birdies at the 16th and 17th after the Australian had three times levelled the match.

Once again Clarke was Europe's last representative in the event as the sole survivor from the morning quarter-finals. But his defeat by Love was a devastating blow and did not reflect all the hard work he has done on his game and fitness.

The 35-year-old is determined not to let his undoubted talent go to waste before it is too late. Gary Player, who knew a thing or two about the relationship between hard work and luck, would have smiled when Clarke holed a wedge shot from 120 yards at the eighth to go two-up on Jerry Kelly in the quarter-finals.

Another eagle followed at the 11th when he had to replay his second shot after it hit the overhead power cables. The second attempt finished 12 feet away and he holed the putt for his third eagle of the week, the first coming in the first round when he chipped in at the last against Eduardo Romero to take the match to extra holes.

"This course has been kind to me in the past and hopefully it is continuing," Clarke said after a 5 and 3 victory. There was one strange incident on the sixth hole when Clarke, not on the green in three with Kelly sure of a four, picked up his ball when there was still the chance of a half. "I just lost track," he said. "It has never happened to me before but funnily enough Kenny Perry did exactly the same against me yesterday.

"The game went almost exactly to plan," Clarke added. "My game is just about where I want it to be." Though delighted for his client, Clarke's win meant his manager, Chubby Chandler, had no hope of dashing back to see his beloved Bolton in the Caring Cup final today.

Woods, who counteracted Harrington's new blond locks with white shoes and a white cap, was four-up against the Irishman at the turn and eventually won 2 and 1. By winning three matches, Harrington at least did something about his woeful record in the event.

"I struggled all week with my game but I managed to scramble my way through the earlier rounds," he said. "I needed to putt well today against Tiger and that just didn't happen. You are only going to get limited chances against Tiger and I failed to take the ones I had."

It was Leaney who ended the impressive run of Ian Poulter, the 44th and lowest remaining seed in the last eight. Poulter made a mess of the third, fourth and fifth holes to go three-down but showed his gritty fighting qualities by making sure the Australian could not secure the victory until the 18th.

Poulter had a chance from eight feet at the last to prolong the contest but the putt grazed the edge of the hole. The 28-year-old Englishman earned $225,000 and plenty of world ranking and Ryder Cup points but perhaps should have stuck with the purple trousers with which he defeated Duffy Waldorf and John Huston on Friday.

Poulter said: "I am happy with the week, especially as this is my first real experience of an individual matchplay event, but I am fuming about the match today. I played well enough off the tee to win it but my iron play was shocking. I was giving Stephen Christmas presents all the way around the front nine. I'm gutted at the moment but hopefully I can learn a lot from the week."

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