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Bridgestone Invitation: Clarke and McIlroy paired up at US PGA

By Mark Garrod

Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke will play together for the first two rounds of next week's US PGA Championship.

It’s traditional that the winners of the first three majors of the year are grouped, so the Ulster pair will tee-off with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel at 1845 BST on Thursday.

By that time McIlroy could be right back in form.

The US Open champion certainly looked more like his old self on the second day of the Bridgstone Invitational yesterday, carding a second successive 68 to stay in the hunt, four shots off the lead.

Open winner Clarke, however, was left propping up the 76-man field on 11 over after improving only three on his initial 77, while compatriot Graeme McDowell’s 72, left him three over and not exactly dreaming of glory.

Clarke’s playing partner yesterday, returning superstar Tiger Woods, fell deep into the pack while things became bunched at the top of the leaderboard at the Firestone course.

Some putting lapses he described as “awful” cost Woods dear as he added only a 71 to his encouraging opening 68 in his first event since mid-May.

Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day, who kicked off with superb rounds of 62 and 63, both shot 70.

Scott is now part of a four-way tie for the halfway lead with Americans Rickie Fowler, Ryan Moore and PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley, playing the first World Golf Championship of his career.

Scot Martin Laird is just one behind with Day and Swede Robert Karlsson, but it was an afternoon of real frustration for Lee Westwood.

England's world number two threatened to be the story of the day when he moved from three under to six under, but he then covered the last six in four over and was slinging clubs back to his bag by the close.

World number one Luke Donald's 69 put him five off the lead.

Laird produced the sort of finish that Woods would love to have had.

The 28-year-old newlywed — he was married last Saturday in Colorado — birdied the final three holes to add a terrific 67 to his opening 66.

Laird said: “I came into this week feeling fresh and on a high. Sometimes and it's amazing when you have no expectations how well you'll play.”

Sunday's Irish Open winner Simon Dyson had been joint last with the Ulsterman overnight, but restored his confidence with a fine 66.

Laird, winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, had mixed three birdies with three bogeys as he came to the long 16th, but struck an 83-yard pitch to four feet there and closed with putts of seven and 15 feet.

Round of the day came from 22-year-old Fowler, a 64 containing an eagle two — he sank his 109-yard pitch to the third — eight birdies and four bogeys, including one at his final hole.

Ian Poulter's 69 for level par was a real mixed bag. After four birdies and three bogeys in the first 15 he ran up a seven on the long 16th, but birdied the last two.

That put him one ahead of playing partners Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose, both round in 70, while Paul Casey (71) was four over.

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