Clarke contrast

By Rex HoggardJuly 15, 2011, 5:06 pm

SANDWICH, England – When Darren Clarke talks fondly of sports psychology staple Dr. Bob Rotella he refers to an “old friend,' a lifeline in a sea of competitive uncertainty. As the 42-year-old joked with fans on the first tee early Friday at Royal St. George’s it was easy to feel the same way about Clarke.

Before Graeme McDowell emerged from the Pebble Beach pack last June, before Rory McIlroy officially assumed the role of resident alpha male last month at Congressional, there was Clarke – as Northern Irish as Guinness and Shepherd’s Pie.

“It’s amazing. (Northern Ireland) has six tour players and there’s only about 15 people in the country,” Clarke’s manager Chubby Chandler said earlier this year.  “Darren led them. He was the guy who set the bar and came over here. G-Mac followed him. And Rory followed G-Mac.”

You remember Clarke, right? Six-foot-two, 200 pounds on a good day, 13-time European Tour winner and a Ryder Cup assassin with a ready smile framed perfectly by a face as red as the numbers he’s put up at St. George’s this week.

He didn’t put Northern Irish golf on the map, he just made it fun to watch. Much like he’s made the 140th playing of the Open Championship something much more than the sum of its parts.

Through two rounds and four seasons, or so it seems, Clarke is little more than a jovial face in the crowd here at the Reclamation Project Open. The race to the claret jug is nothing less than a struggle for redemption for the likes of Clarke and Thomas Bjorn.

Bjorn’s plummet began at St. George’s 16th hole nearly a decade ago when he walked into a cavernous pot bunker, needed three desperate swings to get out and watched someone named Ben Curtis win his Open. Clarke’s freefall didn’t have a defined beginning, but it has been just as difficult to climb out of.

As best anyone can tell Clarke’s nose-dive from world-beater to simply beaten began in 2006 when his wife, Heather, died of breast cancer. The widower with two children dropped to 43rd in European Tour earnings and completed his third year without a victory.

Drained by the loss, and maybe even the European team’s Ryder Cup victory at the K Club, his next season was even worse, missing the cut in more events than not (11 of 20) and falling to 138th in earnings.

The body was willing, but the mind, and eventually the putter, pushed back at every turn.

Clarke rebounded with two victories in 2008 and another earlier this year at the Iberdrola Open in Spain, but something wasn’t right, at least not until Wednesday when he reunited with his “old friend” Rotella.

“Dr. Bob, his thought process is very simple, and that seems to suit me very well,” said Clarke, whose bookend rounds of 68 at St. George’s have lifted him into a tie with Lucas Glover at 4 under.

On Friday Clarke was asked if he thought he could actually win the Open Championship, journalistically a lay-up question particularly considering his six top-25 finishes in the game’s oldest tilt. His wide-eyed answer was surprisingly short, “Absolutely.”

Maybe it’s Rotella, maybe it’s his fiancée, Alison Campbell – whom he met on a blind date that was set up by McDowell – maybe it’s his return home to Portrush after years of living in London. Whatever the tonic, Clarke, the forgotten European in the current crush of Continental dominance, has the look of a man who still belongs, even if the rest of us forgot.

And why wouldn’t he? He mentored McDowell as a young pro and McIlroy was a member of Clarke’s own junior program back in Northern Ireland. And now he’s watched quietly as two of the last four majors have been brought home to Ulster.

“It’s pretty massive odds,” McDowell said of the possibility of a third major champion from Northern Ireland in just over one year. “It is pretty amazing the way certain guys doing it can spur others on to do it.”

Ultimately, however, Clarke’s confidence may stem from the simple truth that more than just about anyone else in the Open field he possesses the unique skills to master a links course that promises to become harder if this weekend’s forecast holds.

Clarke said he made the move from England because he wanted his children to go to school in Northern Ireland, but the byproduct has been a steady diet of Royal Portrush’s predictably poor conditions. On Friday that was obvious when he referenced the unfavorable weekend forecast with a wry smile, “I quite look forward to (it).”

“I’ve been doing a lot of practicing in bad weather because that’s usually what we get at Portrush,” he smiled.

Whatever the reason for Clarke’s return to form the old swagger was unmistakable, a quiet confidence often masked by an engaging persona. On St. George’s 18th hole on Friday the man who lives for the pressure ofthe Ryder Cup was at his swashbuckling best, carving a 7-iron with the wind to 20 feet for a walk-off birdie.

When asked why he would attempt such a bold shot on Friday, Clarke grinned widely, “I’m either very brave or very stupid. I don’t know which one I am frequently.”

With that, the “old friend” was on his way and for a moment it almost seemed like he had never left.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.