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Rain whets Clarke's title appetite

Darren Clarke will take a three-shot lead into the weekend of the Scottish Open with his mouth as dry as his waterproofs are wet.

In what he called "torrential rain but not torrential heavy rain" the Ulsterman compiled a 67 to bring a first title in two years tantalisingly into focus.

The 41-year-old admitted afterwards that the tension is rising, despite a glorious career which has brought two WGC crowns and five Ryder Cups. "It's been a couple of years since I've been at the top of the leader board in a European Tour event," said Clarke, who will also be chasing the one spot on offer here in next week's Open. "So I'm going into these last few days a little bit nervous but very excited."

Two more rounds like this and Clarke will cruise home. In fact, it seemed he might need the motorboat as the clouds remained open. But while others sank, Clarke remained buoyant. "The course was playing brutally long," he reported after stealing clear of the Italian Edoardo Molinari with Wales's Bradley Dredge and Sweden's Peter Hedblom a further stroke adrift. "The hardest thing was having to hit clubs into holes so far removed from what you thought they would be. For example, on the 16th I hit driver, nine-iron yesterday. Today it was driver, three wood."

Clarke actually chipped in on the 16th for a birdie which he labelled "a net albatross". The quip indicated a man not only in good playing spirits but also in good living spirits. In truth, the widower has been ever since he hooked up with a new girlfriend and decided to move his two sons back to his hometown of Portrush. All his game is doing is playing catch-up, and in particular his putting. He puts his four missed cuts from the last six events down to his performance on the greens. "I've changed my posture, made good strokes and just watched them go in," said this ever-talented ball-striker who truly should not be down at 179th in the rankings. He won't be for long

Alas, John Daly's challenge went backwards as a 73 left the reformed character formerly known as the "Wild Thing" eight off the pace. However, the world No 499 has performed notably better than the player ranked 497 places higher. A 74 left Phil Mickelson on three-over and on the brink of missing the cut. It included a nine on the 18th (his ninth) which saw him drive twice into the water. Another chance wasted to usurp Tiger Woods on top of the pile.