Roll Out the Barrel - Clarke Wins Again

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A barrel. Thats what Darren Clarke looks like as he goes rumbling down the fairway. A big, round barrel.
 
And what does he resemble when he swings the golf club? Last week he looked like he was born with a 7-iron in his hand. The Irishman would rear back and have a go at the ball, and it would shoot off as if on a string. He alone tamed the Firestone course, toying with the rest of the field while winning the WGC-NEC.
 
Every now and then, he does this. Hes gotten all kinds of grief because some people believe that all that separates him from 50 career wins is a gigantic dose of dont-cares. He wants to put a halt to that belief right now.
 
People dont think that I (work hard), looking at me, but I actually do work pretty hard, Clarke told a group of assembled media on Saturday. I have been working really hard, and its been frustrating to put as much work in as I have been and not gotten any results. Sometimes that happens.
 
He had had just nine wins on the European Tour since he made his debut a dozen years ago. In 2000 he defeated David Duval in the semifinals of the WCG-Accenture Match Play at La Costa, then turned right around and beat Tiger Woods in the finals. That was heady stuff indeed for a Euro who always seemed to have loads of potential but not many trophies. Surely, the wags were saying, Clarke would now drum the big boys on a regular basis.
 
That, of course, wasnt to be. Since that day, he has won an occasional European event (at the rate of one per year), as well as a tournament in South Africa and one in Japan. But he has hardly been a world-beater. And after this win at Akron, the pundits will undoubtedly predict more startling things in the 35-year-olds future. Who knows if the forecasters will be proven right?
 
He has had a successful career, I suppose, by American standards. If you can win 10 times ' and if you can win twice in the U.S. against the strongest fields ' and have a nice little succession of paydays to boot, youre considered a success.
 
Clarke, though, shows so much more, and has delivered so much less.

The weight thing has generally been spotlighted as the culprit. If he doesnt care enough to get his weight under control, so the theory goes, how can he ever hope to be a consistent winner?
 
I'm pretty strong now, said Clarke. I don't need to do that much. I've just got to lose a little bit of weight basically and get myself a little bit fitter, so maybe coming down the stretch I won't make mistakes because of not being out of shape and not mentally alert and sharp as I should be.
 
Clarke has worked with Butch Harmon the last couple of years, and people who are privy to such things say the difference in his game is dramatic. The visible differences havent filtered down to us yet because we havent seen much in the way of victories. But perhaps that is what separates the insiders from us. Whereas Clarke appears to be a mass of untapped potential, he says the potential is about to become unplugged.
 
That's not the first time I've been asked that, he said. I've been asked that a few times. When I play well I can play very well. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen as much as I would like.
 
It's not through lack of work, it's just sometimes it doesn't happen. I have tended to get very annoyed in the past, but hopefully I think this year my attitude has been very, very good. Again, my results haven't shown that. It's trying to be patient and wait for things to happen, and patience is not one of my virtues.
 
Clarke thus far has been too addicted to his beloved Guinness to make much of a dent in the bear-like belly. At the age of 35, one wonders if he will ever lose much. He thoroughly enjoys a good pint and a good cigar, he has millions squirreled away in the Irish bank accounts, and youve got to ask if, at this stage of the game, its worth it to try to look more like Tiger Woods than Colin Montgomerie. But he insists the diet is just around the corner.
 
I have been doing a little bit, Darren said. Believe it or not, I have been doing a little bit.
 
Because I've been playing an awful lot of golf, and one of the things I said I would do is do it at home and not at the golf tournaments, because I want to practice as much as I have, and because I've been working really hard I haven't had time to do very little else. That's not an excuse; it's actually the real reason. It's something that I am still going to pursue. Hopefully I'll be a little bit lighter when you ask the same question again next year.
 
Yeah, yeah. But at least he isnt kidding anyone, least of all Darren Clarke. He knows that if he lost a little weight, he probably would gain a few more trophies.
 
They said if theres ever a rain delay, do not pick Darren Clarke, he said. That means I have to play more than 18 holes in a day.
 
He went 33 holes in one day in his final-day victory in the 2000 Match Play against Woods. So surely he doesnt always flame out.
 
Sometimes I'm OK and sometimes I'm not, he said. Most of the time I'm OK, but Augusta was one where it really brought it home for me. Augusta was playing as hilly as the golf course was. They were very long walks, and I made some mistakes that I don't think ordinarily I would have done, so that's what brought the whole thing to my attention.
 
The Barrel has won The NEC. I can appreciate that, along with a doughnut and a brewski. Clarke should win much more now. But if he doesnt, what the heck. Hes been an exceptional role model for us sofa-sitters.