Darren Clarke Opening up a new chapter at Barclays Scottish Open
“Where am I? What's this? What's going on?”
The words of Darren Clarke as he looked around the four walls of the Barclays Scottish Open media centre moments after playing through intermittent showers to take a one-stroke lead with a six-under par 65 on day one of the event at Loch Lomond.
Clarke birdied the third, fifth, seventh and ninth holes and also knocked in back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14 in his best Race to Dubai starting round in six months.
But more than his six birdies it was a par at the last that best delighted the 41-year-old.
“I was standing in the middle of the fairway and it was bucketing down, and I put my second shot, a 7-iron from about 189-yards out into the bunker,” he said.
“I got out to about six feet but to then see that six-footer drop for par was the most pleasing thing of the whole day for me.”
Clarke arrived in Scotland having won the J.P McManus Pro-Am earlier in the week and despite the advice of many, it was his caddy Brendan McCurtain who suggested during last week's French Open a change in his putting set-up and it paid dividends with Clarke recording 26 putts.
“With Brendan's advice I changed my set-up on Thursday night in Paris and I have started rolling the ball a lot better again,” said Clarke.
“I did so at Adare Manor and managed to win there. But I've always been a confidence player and whenever I start seeing the ball going into the hole, the whole game seems a lot easier for me. It's just good to go out and play well again as it's been a while since I've been here, so hopefully I'm back in here Sunday night.
“I want to win. I want to win tournaments. That's why I started playing golf.”
Aside from a first Tour victory since the 2008 KLM Open, Clarke has the added incentive of sealing a place in next week's Open Championship by either winning or finishing the highest among the leading five. Damien McGrane shares second place on five under par with Italy's Edorado Molinari and England's Graeme Storm after rounds of 66. Shane Lowry signed for a three-under par 68 while Graeme McDowell finished with a pair of closing birdies. McDowell was two over par through 15 holes but then hit a 6-iron to 30 feet at the par four, eighth hole that he was playing as his 17th and knocked in the putt while at his 18th, he landed a lob-wedge from 75-yards out to four feet.
“It was good to birdie the last two holes as it's turned an average sort of round into at least something respectable,” he said.