Death of Clarkes Wife Tough for Europeans

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill ' The PGA Championship is never an easy time for the Europeans.
Someone is always bringing up that oh-fer streak, a mark of major futility now at 75 years and counting. An Aussie, a couple of South Africans and someone from just about every corner in the United States have won since a European-born player last hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy.
This week, though, the pain the Europeans are feeling goes far deeper than wounded pride. Darren Clarke's wife, Heather, died Sunday after a long battle with breast cancer, and her death has left the close-knit European contingent here reeling. The mention of her name is enough to bring a shadow to players' faces, and Padraig Harrington plans to donate this week's earnings to charity in Heather Clarke's honor.
'It's a hard loss for everybody that knew Heather, and it's especially hard luck for him and his sons,' Denmark's Thomas Bjorn said Tuesday. 'She's right at the forefront of our minds, and she'll always be in our hearts and our thoughts.'
Clarke is one of the most popular Europeans, a burly Northern Ireland native whose personality is even more colorful than his wardrobe. When he announced he'd be arriving late for the Masters -- where he paired a magenta shirt with pink pants one day -- he said he'd prepare for the newly lengthened Augusta National by bone fishing and having 'a few beers.'
If players liked Clarke, they liked his wife just as much.
'You can see why Darren had so much love for Heather,' Tiger Woods said. 'She's a very strong woman. It's a loss for everyone who ever got a chance to meet her and know her.'
Heather Clarke, 39, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. It returned last year, and spread throughout her body. Even as her condition worsened, though, she pushed her husband to stay on the golf course.
Darren Clarke finished third at the Bay Hill Invitational, and shot a 68 at the Houston Open before withdrawing after his wife took a turn for the worse. He was in the hunt at the British Open after opening with a 3-under 69, but followed with an 82 and missed the cut for the first time since 1998.
He then announced he was taking a break to be with his wife and their two sons, 8-year-old Tyrone and 5-year-old Conor.
'No one can truly understand what he's gone through unless you've actually experienced it yourself,' said Woods, whose father, Earl, died of cancer earlier this year.
'I've talked to him a couple times about this, and it's not easy for him to come out here and play,' Woods added. 'But Heather really wanted him to come out here and play and get away from all the distractions at home and go play and go be himself. Heather never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her.'
Heather Clarke's prognosis was so poor many of her friends feared she wouldn't make it through 2005. Still, her death on the eve of the last major of 2006 came as a shock.
Clarke had already withdrawn from the tournament. Paul McGinley, one of Clarke's closest friends, pulled out Monday to be with him and his family. Harrington and Bjorn said they considered not coming, too, but Clarke talked them out of it.
'Darren made it quite clear that the players should go and play,' Harrington said. 'It's what Heather would have wanted. That's made our decision a lot easier to be here.'
But the Clarkes are still very much on their minds. Harrington announced Tuesday that any money he wins this week will go to a charity of Darren Clarke's choosing -- even if Harrington wins the tournament and its prize of about $1.2 million.
'I'd be delighted to hand whatever over this week,' Harrington said. 'Obviously, not being able to attend the funeral -- when you go to funerals, you can't be much help anyway, but this is at least a practical way of helping.'
If Harrington is to win the tournament's biggest prize, he'll have to overcome a lot of history.
No European-born player has won the PGA since Tommy Armour, a Scotsman, did it in 1930, when the tournament was still decided with match play. And only two other European-born players -- Scotland's Jock Hutchinson and Jim Barnes of England -- have won it since it began in 1916.
'We've certainly got enough quality to challenge for the major championships,' Bjorn said. 'We keep saying if one gets over the line, I think it'll help a lot of others. That's what we've got to believe in.'
This week, though, history is the last thing on the minds of the Europeans. One dear friend is gone, and another is grieving an ocean away.
'Even though we've got a big tournament this week, it's not a situation that I'm trying to ... let it be,' Harrington said. 'I'm not going to necessarily try and block it out. I'm not going to dwell on it, either. I'm just going to see how it goes.
'Obviously the situation as it's happened, it's bigger than golf,' he added. 'It's just a question of carrying on and see how it goes.'
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.