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Darren Clarke is invited to the party

By Karl MacGinty

Darren Clarke had expected to be moving house back to Portrush over the next fortnight — now he'll be trying to move a Ryder Cup mountain instead.

Though named as one of Monty's European vice-captains last week, Clarke's fervent hopes of making it to Celtic Manor as a player have been rekindled by a special invite to the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits the week after next.

Five-times Ryder Cup veteran Clarke, 41, could not have asked for a more timely boost before today's first round of the ‘3' Irish Open in Killarney.

“I feel privileged, honoured and fortunate because there's other people higher than me in the world rankings who haven't got in yet — so it's very kind of the Us PGA,” he said.

“If I was to have any sniff of making the Ryder Cup, I really had to be teeing it up in Whistling Straits. Whether I make it (to Celtic Manor as a player) or don't, I'm delighted to be there to play.”

World No 102 Clarke is an ardent admirer of this 'Irish-style links' course built by Pete Dye at Kohler, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

“The golf course was fantastic when we played the US PGA there in 2004.

“It's as close as you'll get to a traditional links,” added Clarke, who led after a first round 65 and poked his nose in front again on Saturday before slipping into a tie for 13th with a closing 76.

Clarke's hopes are high of a hot August Bank Holiday weekend on the banks of beautiful Lough Leane in Killarney — since his morale-boosting win at JP McManus Pro-Am in Adare earlier this month, the 41-year-old has regained much of his former flair and confidence.

“It's amazing the difference just sinking a few more putts can make to your game,” he said.

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