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.

Getty Images

Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

Getty Images

Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

Getty Images

5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

Getty Images

Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”