Sunday, 24 August 2008

Darren Clarke sticks his hand up Nick Faldo, he's ready for Valhalla

It brings tears to the eyes...

My apologies, big Typo there, should have stuck a colon in that title...

Darren Clarke sticks his hand up: Nick Faldo, he's ready for Valhalla

Can't change it now...

Darren Clarke put in an imperious display over the weekend to capture his second win of the year at the KLM Open. Coupled with a good showing at the Bridgestone Invitational a few weeks he has put forward a very persuasive argument that he deserves a Ryder Cup nod from El Capitan Faldo. In the same weekend that Ian Poulter disappointingly missed the cut at the Barclays, the big man from the north and Paul Casey now look the hot favourites for those two wild card berths. Poulter can still play his way into the team; the other big contender, Colin Montgomerie, took the week off again and it will take an amazing return to form next week for the big Scot to jump back into contention.

The fact that Monty decided he would skip the KLM rather than attempt to boost his wild card chances like Clarke has, will not have endeared him to Faldo and it is a dangerous game he is playing. His horrible recent form of late has worried even his most ardent supporters and it was in an attempt to rediscover his game that he has taken his little post USPGA sabbatical. The proof will be in the pudding next week when he comes back and it will need to be a tasty one to impress Faldo enough to not opt for the Casey Clarke combo - both in delicious form...

Yesterday Clarke continued to keep his foot down and push on to gain a three shot lead going into the final round. Five birdies and only the one dropped shot on the 8th was enough to see him move out into the lead on his own, three ahead of Henrik Stenson. The Darren Clarke of old was usually guaranteed to have one big score over four rounds and it was my concern that he would do it all over again. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Clarke's play has been a feature of Clarke's career. At the European Open a few years back he had it in the palm of his hand, an incredible tour record score of 60 in the second round had him way out in front, a hole-in-one the next round made you think his lead was unassailable, not with that luck. It was a different man who limped his way through the final round, watching his close friend Lee Westwood cruise past him to victory. It was this sort of thing that led my friend's Father to christen him "The Big Dump". One of the most outrageously talented players in the world yet he could find a way to lose like no other.

But Clarke is a new player just now. Calmer on the course than ever before, he seems to be more settled and having his kids with him this week may have been a bg factor in how relaxed he stayed throughout. He also has a new swing, totally remodelled in the past year, with things such as subtle changes to his takeaway giving better loft at impact and more reliable results. His puting has been the only thing holding him back all year and that has clicked a bit this week and made all the difference. He's back up where a man of his prodigious talents really should be.

Clarkes only worry today was the blistering start of Henrik Stenson, who bolted out of the traps with three birdies in the first three holes. A disappointing bogey for Clarke on the par Five second, made it seem "The Big Dump" was going to perform his disappearing act once more and hand away a fantastic chance for victory. But the new leader by one shot, Henrik, was not about to get so lucky as that. Clarke set off on his own birdie hunt and three in the next four holes got him right back in the lead, Stenson the one to crumble as he took a bogey on 7 and followed it up with a double bogey on 9.

An attemped come back by Stenson of three birdies in a row from the tenth was matched by Clarke to maintain he lead over the Swede. A bogey on 15 for Clarke was a solitary stumble on the back nine, with world number 6 Stenson capitualating with two late bogey's of his own. They were enough to see him drop into third place behind another Irishman, a charging Paul McGinley, who hit a rampant 64 which included an eagle on 12 to shoot his way to the runner-up cheque. He is another man who may be hoping a strong late showing might find him with a chance at Valhalla but he is quite a bit lower in the pecking order I'm afraid. Still, always nice to see McGinley showing off that cheshire cat grin as he's scooting round the greens like the Duracell bunny.

Four rounds in the sixties, on a course he hadn't seen until this week, to grab what was in the end a comfortable victory is pretty much Mission Accomplished for Darren Clarke this week. Can't stop to smell the roses just now though. It's off to Gleneagles for the Johnnie Walker, where the Ryder Cup race shall be decided; another strong performance there and Clarke should be getting a nice phone call from the Faldo residence come August 31st, to ask if he'd be up for a spot of September Yank bashing.

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