Wrenching Time for Clarke as Ryder Cup Nears

By Associated PressSeptember 18, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- The shiny gold trophy sat on the table, and Ian Woosnam wasn't sure whether to take it with him.
Standing to leave his news conference Monday at The K Club, the European captain clutched it in his right hand and was headed out the door when he walked past Darren Clarke and instinctively handed him the Ryder Cup.
For all the emotions swirling around Clarke in the five weeks since his wife died, it was a reminder why he is here.
'A lot of people understand the position I'm in,' Clarke said. 'I've had a very emotional time of late. But as soon as the bell goes, I'm there to play golf, and I'm going to try to play as best I can. And hopefully, my best will be enough to earn some points for the team.'
Clarke contributed 3 1/2 points to Europe's landslide victory last time in the Ryder Cup, a festive occasion.
Two weeks after returning home from Oakland Hills, however, he learned that breast cancer had returned to his wife, Heather, and quickly spread through her body. She urged him to keep playing, even as her condition worsened.
A year ago at the BMW Championship at Wentworth, players and their wives were in tears to hear that Heather had suffered another setback and wasn't expected to live more than a week. Clarke always called her a fighter, and that much was clear.
She rallied time and again, strong enough to join him in the Bahamas the week before the Masters. But after Clarke opened with a 68 in the Houston Open a few weeks later, he withdrew to fly home to London when she took another turn for the worse.
Finally, he called it quits after missing the cut at the British Open, wanting to spend as much time as he could with his family.
'We went on a family holiday,' he said. 'We went to Greece for a day, and didn't like that; ended up in Portugal for a little bit. And after that, a bit of a rush to get back home on an air ambulance, just had a bit of a nightmare. But we got back home, and things went downhill rather rapidly.'
She died Aug. 13, leaving behind her husband and two sons, 8-year-old Tyrone and 5-year-old Conor.
Clarke would come home from the hospital in her last few weeks and hit balls, mostly to take his mind off a helpless situation. He returned to practice after the funeral because he wanted to be ready if he felt he should play in the Ryder Cup.
Woosnam offered him a captain's pick and Clarke accepted, for no other reason than Heather would have wanted him to play.
'I have my moments,' he said. 'But overall, I'm very comfortable with what I'm doing. I did think long and hard about whether I should be here this week, and I came to the conclusion that I would help the team if I was here. So that's why I'm here. I want to play. I want to compete. And I want to help my teammates.'
And while he has continued to work hard on his game, his routine has changed.
Clarke takes his oldest son to school in the morning before going to the golf course. He comes home to eat lunch with Conor and returns to practice until it's time to pick up Tyrone in the afternoon.
If there is any good that has come out of this, he has grown closer to his boys.
'I've had to look after them a bit more than what I normally have done,' Clarke said. 'Heather suffered for four years, basically, and it was very difficult to watch that. But since she's passed away, I'm happy with my relationship with my kids.'
He has thought about bringing them to opening ceremonies on Thursday -- a time when players make a grand entrance with their wives at their sides -- but isn't sure he can take them away from school. And they won't be around when the matches start at what is expected to be the biggest sports event in Ireland.
'They're not quite tall enough to see over everybody,' he said.
The unknown is how his game can stack up to the pressure of the Ryder Cup, and how his emotions handle three days of the biggest frenzy in golf. The loudest cheer all week might be when Clarke's name is announced on the first tee.
'It will be fantastic for him to play,' said Tiger Woods, one of Clarke's closest friends on the U.S. tour whose father died in May after a long battle with cancer. 'It will be fantastic for him to have teammates around him. I still think it's going to be hard because every player has his wife there. It's going to be hard in that environment at times. He knows that. We've talked about that. You have to deal with it one day, and it might as well be now.'
Clarke returned last week at the Madrid Masters, where he opened with a 68 and finished 15 shots behind. He was disappointed but has high expectations this week.
'I wasn't going out there just to try and play and shoot a decent number,' he said. 'I've worked very hard to get myself back onto that first tee. I was there to play.'
Even so, the 38-year-old from Northern Ireland cannot escape questions about the state of his game, much less his head.
'To come to the Ryder Cup in Ireland will be emotional enough for Irish players, but to have this on top of it ...,' Nick Faldo said last week. 'All these things will lift him, and I'm sure the bottom line is Heather would have wished that if anything happened to her, she would want him to play for the Ryder Cup. It will be gut-wrenching at times, but he will be strong and want to be part of it.'
Clarke is among the most popular players on both teams, mixing as easily with Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk as he does with Lee Westwood and Paul McGinley. A British golf writer once described him as someone who knew the inside of a Ferrari, the outside of a cigar and the bottom of a glass of Guinness.
Win or lose, U.S. captain Tom Lehman expects him to be a central figure in these matches.
'I think he's going to make the European team stronger,' Lehman said. 'I think he's going to make the Ryder Cup better. And I think it would not be nearly as good a Ryder Cup without him.'
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    Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

    By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

    Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.