Sport

Clarke looks to rekindle flame

Nigel Ringland at Muirfield

IT was no surprise to find Darren Clarke working hard on the range and putting green at Muirfield yesterday. Putting in the hours practicing has never been the issue. It's when the results don't echo the effort that the frustration builds.

At first he didn't want to talk, probably fearing the same old questions about his form, but when persuaded the Dungannon man was in good humour as he reflected on recent times.

"What keeps me working? The love/hate of the game. There's more love but it's hiding somewhere," he said.

Clarke (left) laughed when it was suggested it was unrequited love:

"Maybe I'm just trying too hard. I'm working as hard as I can and coming here this week, well, this is brilliant, this is fantastic, this is as good as it gets."

Two years ago there were no expectations on Clarke when he turned up at Royal St George's before producing a masterclass in links golf to win his only Major title on a never-to-be-forgotten week.

Since then, he has played in 40 events, missed 18 cuts and finished in the top 10 only once, at the Australian PGA Championship last December where he was joint eighth with eight others.

He missed the cut at the recent Irish Open and, although showed some glimpses of what he can produce at Castle Stuart last week, it was another weekend off and he languishes at 437th in the world rankings.

Clarke lamented: "I played nicely last week but had a couple of bad bounces.

"I almost got myself into contention halfway through the second round, then I got a couple of bad bounces, trickled into a bunker on the downslope, without actually hitting bad shots, and it was one of those things, but I actually played not too bad last week so looking forward to this week."

It's on a links course like Muirfield that a switch could flick for Clarke.

"It's a wonderful golf course. Muirfield is as fair as they come and it's in great condition. I've been here twice in the past month doing a couple of R&A patrons, days and I played yesterday as well.

It's getting very firm and fast and it's only going to get firmer and faster according to the forecast, so the course is good and Muirfield has always been about keeping it on the fairways, that's what Muirfield is."

He added when asked if it was right up his street: "It is, it's about hitting six-irons 250 yards downwind and trying to put it in the right place all the time so it's different, but its great.

"The Open is the biggest and best tournament in the world and you know, we play on some of the best course in the world as well. It's always a fantastic event."

Clarke's recent record in the Majors also doesn't bode well.

In the five he's played in since winning The Open, he missed this year's Masters after tearing his hamstring playing tennis and has made only one cut, finishing 54th at last year's USPGA Championship.

At the 1992 Open here at Muirfield, he missed the cut and, a decade later, he could only manage 37th, but Clarke isn't going to duck a challenge.

"I think if you take a look at the winners here, they're all, it seems a very obviously thing to say, great shot-makers and in control of their ball flight," he said.

"Nick Faldo, and all those guys, worked the ball around the golf course. Tom Watson, all wonderful ball-strikers and were able to control the trajectory and shape of things.

"This golf course, that's why it's as good as it is and produces such fantastic winners"

It's a long shot that Clarke will add his name to the list of Muirfield winners Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Watson, Faldo and Ernie Els dating back to 1959.

But why not? After all he's been there and done it before...

FIRST ROUND TEE-TIMES

Tee-off times in the first round of The Open Championship, Muirfield - Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland (Gbr & Irl unless stated, all times Local): (x) denotes amateurs Starting at hole 1 0632 Lloyd Saltman, Peter Senior (Aus), Oliver Fisher 0643 Robert Karlsson (Swe), Todd Hamilton (USA), (x) Ben Stow 0654 Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Bud Cauley (USA) 0705 Brooks Koepka (USA), Mikko Ilonen (Fin), Ashun Wu (Chn) 0716 David Duval (USA), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Chris Wood 0727 Stewart Cink (USA), Scott Stallings (USA), Richard McEvoy 0738 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa), KJ Choi (Kor), Jimmy Walker (USA) 0749 Ben Curtis (USA), Shane Lowry, Rafael Cabrera Bello (Spa) 0800 Brian Davis, Jonas Blixt (Swe), Graham Delaet (Can) 0811 Robert Garrigus (USA), John Senden (Aus), Marc Warren 0822 Martin Kaymer (Ger), (x) Garrick Porteous, Jason Day (Aus) 0833 Carl Pettersson (Swe), Jason Dufner (USA), David Lynn 0844 Bubba Watson (USA), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Dustin Johnson (USA) 0900 Tom Watson (USA), Nick Faldo, Fred Couples (USA) 0911 Justin Rose, Ernie Els (Rsa), Brandt Snedeker (USA) 0922 Ian Poulter, Keegan Bradley (USA), Billy Horschel (USA) 0933 Richard Sterne (Rsa), Gonzalo FernandezCastano (Spa), Nick Watney (USA) 0944 Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Phil Mickelson (USA) 0955 Tim Clark (Rsa), Scott Piercy (USA), Kevin Streelman (USA) 1006 Shingo Katayama (Jpn), Zach Johnson (USA), Thomas Bjorn (Den) 1017 Angel Cabrera (Arg), Camilo Villegas (Col), Tano Goya (Arg) 1028 Ken Duke (USA), George Coetzee (Rsa), Mark Calcavecchia (USA) 1039 John Huh (USA), Brendan Jones (Aus), Hyung-sung Kim (Kor) 1050 Josh Teater (USA), Steven Tiley, (x) Jimmy Mullen 1101 KT Kim (Kor), Steven Jeffress (Aus), Luke Guthrie (USA) 1112 Gareth Wright, John Wade (Aus), Makoto Inoue (Jpn) 1133 YE Yang (Kor), Danny Willett, Johnson Wagner (USA) 1144 Thaworn Wiratchant (Tha), Lucas Glover (USA), Oscar Floren (Swe) 1155 Boo Weekley (USA), Sandy Lyle, Niclas Fasth (Swe) 1206 (x) Grant Forrest, Marcus Fraser (Aus), Mark O'Meara (USA) 1217 Tom Lehman (USA), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Fredrik Jacobson (Swe) 1228 (x) Rhys Pugh, Justin Leonard (USA), Marc Leishman (Aus) 1239 Kyle Stanley (USA), Alvaro Quiros (Spa), Alexander Noren (Swe) 1250 Russell Henley (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA), (x) Matthew Fitzpatrick 1301 Michael Thompson (USA), Padraig Harrington, Richie Ramsay 1312 Vijay Singh (Fij), Darren Clarke, Martin Laird 1323 Ryan Moore (USA), Henrik Stenson (Swe), (x) Steven Fox (USA) 1334 Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Jim Furyk (USA), Paul Lawrie 1345 Harris English (USA), Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Stephen Gallacher 1401 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 1412 Adam Scott (Aus), Matt Kuchar (USA), Luke Donald 1423 Matteo Manassero (Ita), Rickie Fowler (USA), Hunter Mahan (USA) 1434 Peter Hanson (Swe), Hiroyuki Fujita (Jpn), Bill Haas (USA) 1445 Tiger Woods (USA), Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 1456 Webb Simpson (USA), Branden Grace (Rsa), Jamie Donaldson 1507 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Toru Taniguchi (Jpn), Bo Van Pelt (USA) 1518 Brett Rumford (Aus), DA Points (USA), Marcel Siem (Ger) 1529 George Murray, Mark Brown (Nzl), Justin Harding (Rsa) 1540 Scott Jamieson, Gregory Bourdy (Fra), Shiv Kapur (Ind) 1551 Scott Brown (USA), Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Gareth Maybin 1602 Tyrrell Hatton, Eduardo De La Riva (Spa), Kenichi Kuboya (Jpn) 1613 Stephen Dartnall (Aus), Darryn Lloyd (Rsa), Daisuke Maruyama (Jpn)

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