Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Clarke shut out of Open

Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke is facing a future away from the Majors after his latest qualifying bid — for next month’s Open Championship at St Andrews — ended in failure.

Clarke, who once took his place at the world’s top tournaments for granted, now has to fight for the scraps in final qualifying events.

And with almost 100 players fighting for only a handful of places, that’s always a tough ask.

Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin, though, made it look easy as he booked his place at the Open by finishing third at Sunningdale yesterday.

And that completed a remarkable double as he fought his way through to this month’s US Open at Pebble Beach with a remarkable closing 63 in qualifying at Walton Heath.

For Clarke, whose last tournament win was two years ago, Major week is more often time spent at home than slugging it out with the world’s top players.

At 41 he’s hardly over the hill in golfing terms and he firmly believes he can play his way back into the top 50 and regain his place at the four Major championships.

But it’s a tough grind for him to get there at the moment as his latest bid — to reach next month’s Open Championship at St Andrews — ended in failure at final qualifying at Sunningdale yesterday.

Clarke came in with rounds of 68 and 69 at the 36-hole qualifying event, but three under was good enough only for 21st place, three shots outside the qualifying mark.

Contrast that with Gareth Maybin who shot rounds of 64 and 68 to make it through in third place after his closing 63 to qualify for the US Open at Pebble Beach.

Or even with Colin Montgomerie who, at the age of 46, stormed through to St Andrews — where he finished runner-up to Tiger Woods five years ago — with a second round 62 to finish behind top qualifier Shane Lowry.

Throughout his long and successful career — he has 19 professional wins including two World golf titles —Clarke has always tinkered with his game to try and bring out the best in himself.

He is constantly changing putters and, if anything, changes caddies even more frequently.

He would desperately love to be part of Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup team at Celtic Manor in October, but there will be no sign of the furore which greeted his absence from Nick Faldo’s team two years ago, if he misses out this time around.

Even though he won twice on the European Tour in 2008, it increasingly looks as though his part in Europe’s victory over the Americans at the K Club in 2006 will be his defining moment in the game.

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Paul Cutler’s reign as East of Ireland champion is over following Cain Curley’s win at Baltray last night.

The Newlands golfer posted a closing round 72 yesterday to finish two shots clear of Co Sligo's Gary McDermott.

Portstewart player Cutler could only manage a 74 yesterday in the final round to finish a further two shots adrift.

He and Curley will both be heading to European Tour qualifying school at the end of the season.

“If I could have picked a tournament to win it would have been this one,” Curley said.

“It's my favourite course. I got my first Irish cap here, my first Leinster cap too. I've played it a lot and know it so well at this stage, I almost felt at home.”

“It feels great, a relief because I've had a few chances but not quite finished them off.”

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