Darren Clarke British Open Press Conference Transcript
DARREN CLARKE: Most of Monday afternoon, I played nine holes, played great. Played yesterday, played poorly. Went out and played today and played nicely again. So I don't have no idea what to expect.
DARREN CLARKE: If I got in the position, I like to think I could cross the line, but it's getting myself in the position. As I've been telling you guys the past few weeks, I have been playing okay. I haven't been able to score and hopefully this is not going to be another one of those sort of weeks. This course is very demanding. Any poor shots are going to be highlighted, especially with the rough as severe as it is. I think I'm going to have to be at the top of my game to get myself in a position where I can challenge for the Championship.
Q. Colin said this morning he thought last year was a missed opportunity. Is that the same way you look back on it?
DARREN CLARKE: Where did he finish?
Q. (Inaudible) ?
DARREN CLARK: It doesn't make any difference, really. The back nine that's totally irrelevant. The back nine it's only where it's an opportunity lost. Certainly I was in there and didn't give myself a chance. ... the polar was cold the whole week last week, and I played really well all four days and paid the penalty for a shot that wasn't that bad on 17 in Sunday. And two behind, I thought I had to make at least one birdie to give myself a chance at the shot. Thought it was a good shot when I hit it and finished in the bunker and took a double. I hit all the shots around that back nine last year on Sunday when I had to. Unfortunately it wasn't good enough to -- I couldn't roll the putts in to match the shots I had been hitting.
Q. Darren, when you think about the Open, do you visualize playing the course or do you actually think about the opponents you're going to be up against; i.e., do you believe if you're on the top of your game, do you think you'll be able to win the Championship?
DARREN CLARKE: If I'm at the top of my game, playing a links course, yes, I feel I can compete with anybody, especially on a links where I've grown up playing many of them. And because of that, the Open is my favorite major and the one that I foresee myself as having the best chance in. So it's not -- you're not playing against anybody else. It's the golf course. Sometimes we tend to forget that, but it's the golf course. We have to try to overcome that.
Q. If you listen to any number of professionals talking, they are all talking about Tiger Woods all the time. You wonder whether they are they beaten before they begin?
DARREN CLARKE: It's the golf course you have to beat, not Tiger. He's obviously No. 1 in the world. He's going to be a very tough guy to beat, but if I'm on top of my game, I like to think I can give myself a chance to compete with him this week.
Q. How does Muirfield suit your game?
DARREN CLARKE: Any links course I enjoy playing. Muirfield this week. ^ they've forgotten a couple of fairways out there, No. 1 and No. 10, particularly. For the record, it's not too bad if you drive the ball well. I keep the ball in play because the driver is only going to be in play maybe three times maximum, but it is a very very tough test. There's going to be a lot more strategy involved around -- course management involved around Muirfield than the majority of the Open courses. There are options everywhere. And that can make it even more difficult at times. If you try to push too hard, you're going to end up making doubles; whereas, there are going to be a lot of 2-irons off the tees, and going in with a long iron into the greens. It's going to make it more difficult to score, but at least that way you'll have an opportunity to do so. If you drive it in the rough, you'll have no chance.
Q. Have you found these greens more receptive in practice than a lot of links courses?
DARREN CLARKE: I think they're slower than the greens that we've played in the past few Opens. Maybe that's because the conditions are a little bit damp ^ some of them quite heavily, so the ball is not really taking an awful lot of spin. It is stopping them because they are quite slow, but it's not taking that much spin. You can't really pitch a shot beside the flag and hope it's going to stop because it's not going to do that, especially with anything from any mid-irons to just releasing all the time. That's another thing we have to factor in this week.
Q. Colin said, quite simply, if Tiger is playing his best, and he is playing his best, that Tiger wins. Clearly, from your words, you don't see it that way, from your point of view, if you're playing your point?
DARREN CLARKE: If Monte wants to think that way, it's up to him. If he wants to stand on the first tee and feel that way, good luck to him.
Q. You clearly don't feel that way?
DARREN CLARKE: No.
DARREN CLARKE: As I've said, if I play as I can on a links golf course, this one, I think, and if I play my best, I can compete with Tiger. Whether or not that happens, I don't know, but if I play my best, I think I can compete with him on a links golf course.
Q. Do you beat yourself up about the fact that you haven't won an Open yet?
DARREN CLARKE: No, I think there is a question of putting myself in opportunities where I can contend in an Open. I've done that a couple of times, not quite as often as I would have liked. We don't always win when we have opportunities, and I've only given myself two opportunities in 11 attempts. So in order to, as you said, be hard on myself, I can't do that unless I give myself enough opportunities to do that.
Q. Do your two near-misses hang around your neck like a mill stone?
DARREN CLARKE: Not at all, they inspire me.
Q. Darren, you went out and hit with Tiger?
DARREN CLARKE: It seems like a long time ago. It is along time ago.
Q. What would you suggest to Justin Rose -- (inaudible) ?
DARREN CLARKE: I think Justin has won four tournaments this year. He knows how to win. He has gone to 41 now so he's progressing quite nicely. He's got to just go and play his game. It's very difficult to play with Tiger and especially in majors where he's so focused. This one will be a little bit easier because Tiger is over here, not in America. So I think it will probably be a bit easier for him over here. He's a very good player. If he goes out and keeps on doing what he's doing, he will he be fine.
Q. How did you do it (inaudible)?
DARREN CLARKE: No, they're actually quite good. There was a big, fat guy rumbling down the fairway, smoking a cigar. That was fine with me. You see a lot of guys getting caught up in watching what Tiger is doing, looking at the leader board all the time. You know his name is going to be up there. You know he is going to be the guy to beat, but a lot of guys are becoming so obsessed by it, and it's to their detriment.
Q. Here in the locker room (inaudible)?
DARREN CLARKE: You know, the guy doesn't win every tournament that he plays in. He wins the majority of them, fair enough, but he doesn't win every one. He is a fantastic player, probably one of the best the game has ever seen. He's a great guy to go with, but if you're worrying about what Tiger is going to do every time, you're wasting your time beating your head against a brick wall. If you don't have enough confidence in your own ability to challenge him, there's no point in playing the game.
Q. I was watching you putt. It appeared you were trying a narrower stance, and getting advice from people watching?
DARREN CLARKE: Who were they?
Q. A couple of guys just behind you.
DARREN CLARKE: What were they saying? Let me know, please. I might hole a few more if you let me know. I wasn't listening to anybody behind me. My stance is a foot wider than it was in the past month. So no, I'm just trying to find a little bit of rhythm in my stroke. It's gotten too short, I've been hitting it too much, as opposed to stroking it. I was trying to get more flow in there to see if I can hole a few more.
Q. Have you picked a putter?
DARREN CLARKE: I have many in my locker, but I have a favorite for going in the bag. It's an old one.
Q. You talked about one and 10 being (inaudible) is that about a daunting a tee shot as you've ever seen for an Open championship?
DARREN CLARKE: Yes, it is. You look down there and with the height of the rough down there, and the shape of the hole with a slight dog leg to the right, there's very little fairway you can see, especially if you hit it into a 20, 30 mile an hour wind, there's certainly going to be a real tough opening hole. There are going to be a lot of doubles there.
Q. And especially when the gun goes and the tension is on?
DARREN CLARKE: Most definitely. The great thing about Muirfield is that if you do hit it in the fairway, you can chase a lot of shots in. There's no bunkers at the front of greens, so you can work the ball in low and chase it in with longer irons if you have to. That's one of the fantastic things about Muirfield, which isn't always the case in a lot of other links courses that we play.
Q. Have you put in any new clubs this week or taken any out?
DARREN CLARKE: As you know, wherever I go about, there is always a 5-wood or 2-iron, and this is not a 5-wood course, so I put a 2-iron in. But apart from that, nothing.
Q. When you reflect on the three opens you have come close to winning and you analyze it, is it the case other people play better than you or something in the Sunday afternoon didn't quite work for you?
DARREN CLARKE: A little bit of both. I think if you take a look at the other couple of times, guys have been before -- I think your turn comes - when it's your turn to win a major you win a major. I think guys have played better than me and I haven't quite made the most of my chances, so it will be a mixture of both.
Q. Do you then perhaps conclude your time is about to come?
DARREN CLARKE: I would not conclude that. I would like to think it may be coming at its own stage in the future.
Q. As an Open finish, how difficult is 18?
DARREN CLARKE: Very tough. Again because of the severity of the rough and it limits what I decide to hit off the tee. I think if I hit a 2-iron off the tee, I will be looking at something like a 5-iron into the green. And the green itself is very undulating for a final green. The bunkers on the side, if you trickle into those, you might not be able to get out. You might be able to go towards your targets. So again, it's a very very tough Par-4 finish.
Q. In '92, Nick Faldo expected John Cook to make a bogey there. Is it the sort of hole that will be difficult to make par on if you're going to win?
DARREN CLARKE: It could be difficult. It's just a very tough hole. A lot of things can happen there, certainly it's no easy par.
Q. What are your four toughest holes?
DARREN CLARKE: My tour toughest holes?
Q. Yes. What would you use?
DARREN CLARKE: It depends where the wind is coming from. If the wind is blowing hard, you're forced to hitting a driver off the first. It's a very narrow tee shot for that. It could be a driver, 3-iron to the first if the wind is blowing. A very tough opening hole. 6, where you're hitting a blind tee shot into a quite narrow fairway and dog leg to the left. But you're hitting up over the rough and you can't really see where you're going. It's always difficult when you're playing a links golf course where you're hitting at markers; you're hitting at something in the distance that you can't really see. And there are a few holes like that where you're trying to keep it low but you're hitting it straight into the sky and that makes it very difficult.
Q. What club would you use?
DARREN CLARKE: Again, it depends on the wind. This past few days I've been hitting a 3-wood off the tee, but there is a bunker at 260 that you have to get past and right in the corner. It's not that difficult a hole if you get your tee shot away. I think No. 10 is going to be tough. It's such a long hole. Everybody has to hit a driver off of it. A 475 Par 4. So you have no option there, really. And I think 18 is going to be as well. The whole way around the back nine there are a lot of tough shots. 10, 11, 12, maybe not too bad, but from there on in par is a good score on any of them, even 17 is no gimmie birdie, like it was the last time we played here.
Q. So that was one, 1, 6, 10, and 11?
DARREN CLARKE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 --
STEWART McDOUGAL: 14.
DARREN CLARKE: 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. (Laughter).
Q. Honestly, which holes do you feel you're attacking out there?
DARREN CLARKE: There are a few opportunities. No. 2 would come to mind, No. 3 should be a possibility. No. 5, if it's dying wind, should be a relatively straightforward opportunity. 11, if you get the tee shot in place should be straight forward. 12, again, the same. And that's about it. 17, yes and no. It depends what you want to do. I hit a 3-wood off the tee today. I was trying to chase a 2-iron in. The fairways this week because of the weather are not as firm and as fast as what I'm sure they would have liked them to have been, so I've been hitting a lot of shots in, which have stopped short of the green. Hitting them in low and chasing them in, just because the terrain is a little bit soft. So 17, if you're trying to chase something into that green, you have got very severe bunkers on either side, so if you miss it at all slightly, you'll end up in one of the bunkers and have a tough up and down. So 17 is not quite the gift that possibly it was the last time we were here.
Q. So you've got a combination of fairways where the ball isn't running as much as you expected -- (inaudible) -- greens where it's not holding enough, so the running shot becomes more difficult?
DARREN CLARKE: Yes. It's a very difficult golf course.
Q. Are you aware of the expectation on your shoulders in the Open Championship and how do you respond to that? Is that a positive thing for you?
DARREN CLARKE: The only expectation on my shoulders is from myself. And I'm 17 stone odd, so there is a lot of weight on my shoulders. Nothing else. It's only me.
Q. You say that, but I mean people look at your Open record over the last seven years --
DARREN CLARKE: Yes, but I don't match up to anybody's expectations, only my own. And I'm stern enough, as a few people will attest.
Q. How many putters have you actually used in the last several weeks, since you had the belly putter? Is there a sense you're feeling a little in the dark to find one?
DARREN CLARKE: I'm not putting that badly. I'm just not holding anything. I'm getting a lot of lip outs and a lot of horseshoes. And that's a little bit frustrating. I just thought I would have a go and try something else, and keep on going. But this week, I'm just going back to an old one that I've putted well with on links greens in the past.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.
Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title
The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.
Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.
Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.
Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.
Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.