The Open 2014: Darren Clarke feels momentum returning

Fitter and slimmer than he has been for a long time, the Northern Irishman moved up the leaderboard with a 67

Royal Liverpool

It may not have lasted all the round but when the raining was hammering down first thing on a foul morning there was only one player to turn to. Darren Clarke spent two decades trying to fulfil a childhood dream to win the Open and finally achieved it in the wind and rain at Sandwich three years ago.

This was a Clarke sort of morning and although the conditions eased and it was eerily still out on the Hoylake links, the Portrush man took advantage to move up the Open leaderboard with a 67. It was a score matched only by American Jordan Spieth, who due to the “U-shaped” draw teed off after the worse of the weather but was actually further down the standings.

At five under par, Clarke got himself up to joint 12th, though his fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy finished the day out of sight with those two late eagles. For Clarke, however, a return to form is long overdue and a strong weekend will boost his confidence.

This was an historic day for the Open Championship with a two-tee start employed for the first time. It was also a sombre morning for golf following the death of Bob Torrance, the legendary golf coach and father of Ryder Cup star Sam, at the age of 82. Clarke was among many of the players wearing a black ribbon as a mark of respect.

 

After the round he was quick to recall the influence the senior Torrance had on his own career. At the 1990 Irish Open, Clarke played as an amateur alongside Sam Torrance and DJ Russell for the first two days. He explained: “I made the cut and Sam told me, ‘You need to turn pro sooner rather than later, and you need to start working with my dad’.

“And I did. I spent many days and hours with Bob on the range at Largs. He was a very special man. I would not be the golfer that I am without the help of Bob Torrance.”

Read more: McIlroy provides the fireworks
McIlroy and Clarke praise R&A decision

Clarke, lying in the bottom half of the 36-hole qualifiers, was among those dispatched to the tenth tee at the far end of the course to begin their rounds. Ironically, it was only when Clarke got back within sight of the clubhouse and the tented villages that he burst into life. There were seven pars to start before he rolled off four birdies in a row, at the 17th and 18th holes and then the first and the second. What he called a “silly three-putt” followed at the third but generally the putter was behaving itself much better than usual. He drained a 40-footer at the fourth and claimed a sixth birdie at the par-five fifth before ending the day with four more pars.

Clarke is a much slimmed down version than the ample figure that held the claret jug aloft in 2011. Fitter and healthier than for a long time, his golf may finally be catching up: “I’m not as fat as I was, so my timing was out. It has taken a little time to adjust. I kept leaving the club behind me but I’ve done a few things this week to correct it. I just need to knock in a few putts and get the momentum going. ”

Shane Lowry, Matteo Manassero and Stephen Gallacher wear black ribbons to honour the late Bob Torrance Shane Lowry, Matteo Manassero and Stephen Gallacher wear black ribbons to honour the late Bob Torrance Defending champion Phil Mickelson began the day on the same mark as Clarke, level par, albeit from the first tee but was left frustrated by a 71.  He was playing with compatriots Keegan Bradley, who had a 69, and Jason Dufner, who returned a 74. The threesome enjoyed their company together more than their scores. “It’s the most relaxed I’ve ever been in a major,” Bradley said.

Mickelson said: “It’s as easy as I’ve seen this course play. I threw away countless opportunities, so it was frustrating. ”

Clearly, like Clarke, the American is not satisfied with just one claret jug. “Last year means a lot,” he said. “But getting a taste of it, I just want more. It makes me work harder.”

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