Clarke in Search of a Pair of Volvos
Saturday in Jerez, Spain, Clarke played his final three holes in 3-under-par to tie overnight leader Pierre Fulke for the 54-hole lead at the Volvo Masters, and, in the process, put himself in prime position to overtake Lee Westwood for the top spot on the Volvo Order of Merit.
Clarke fired a 4-under-par 68 to move to 11-under through three rounds, the same number reached by Fulke, who birdied the home hole for a 2-under-par 70.
Stephen Leaney is in solo third place at 10-under after a third-round 69. Jose Maria Olazabal stands in a four-way tie with Ricardo Gonzalez, Angel Cabrera and Fredrik Jacobson for fourth place at 8-under. The Spaniard could only manage an even-par 72 on Saturday.
Clarke, who trails Westwood by roughly $70,000 in earnings, began the day two shots back of Fulke. The Northern Irishman got off to a hot start on Saturday, birdying three of his first seven holes, but cooled quickly, thereafter.
Clarke bogeyed three of his next eight holes to drop to 8-under-par for the tournament, and even-par for the day.
He then hit his favorite stretch of holes at Montecastillo.
Clarke eagled the par-5 16th, parred the par-4 17th, and birdied the par-4 18th. Clarke has played the final three holes in 7-under-par through three rounds.
'I said at the start of the week that I wanted to put myself into a position where I could challenge for the tournament and that's what I've managed to do,' said Clarke.
'I was very patient again today. I waited for things to happen. If I could bottle (the attitude) I've got this week I would pay a fortune for it. I don't know what's going on. This hasn't been like me.'
Saturday, Clarke played alongside the man he's trying to secede as Order of Merit champion. Needing to win this week and next to secure his eighth-straight money title, Colin Montgomerie dropped from a three shots off the lead as the day began to eight strokes back by day's end.
Monty carded a dismal 3-over-par 75 in the third round. The Scot's poor performance, combined with the Clarke's stellar play, has all-but assured the European Tour of a new money champion in 2000.
If Clarke is to come out of this week leading the Order of Merit, he'll have to fend off a surging Westwood. After opening in 76, the Englishman has fired rounds of 69-65 to climb within five strokes of the lead at 6-under-par.
Westwood carded six birdies and an eagle before finding the water on the 18th with his tee shot for his only bogey of the day. He blamed the mishap on a spectator who moved in the middle of his backswing.
'I didn't say anything to the guy,' Westwood said. 'I just gave him one of those glares - the Seve glare! The one that makes you tremble and feel like crawling into the nearest hole.'
Water also resulted in Fulke's lone dropped shot of the day. The Swede found the hazard at the 16th to fall off his perch at the top of the leaderboard. However, Fulke reclaimed a share of the lead by sinking a birdie at the 18th.
'I had a lot of chances, but the putter didn't work,' Fulke said. 'I had a nice birdie to finish from ten feet at the last, but my goal is to win the Volvo Masters which would get me into the WGC-American Express Championship next week.'
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
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.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.