Darren Clarke rolls back the years at US PGA
Darren Clarke knows Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie needs no further headaches at the moment — but he might be about to give him one.
While Montgomerie battles off-the-course private life issues for the second time this year, one of his vice-captains was set to resume the USPGA Championship today only one off the lead at Whistling Straits.
Dungannon man Clarke, 42 tomorrow, was today preparing for a 30-foot par attempt on the 14th hole to kick off the completion of his first round.
Over three hours were lost to fog yesterday morning and only half the 156-strong field completed their scheduled 18 holes before nightfall.
Italian Francesco Molinari and American left-hander Bubba Watson, both of whom could end the week by clinching a first Ryder Cup cap, were sharing top spot in the clubhouse following four-under-par 68s.
South African Ernie Els and Watson's compatriots Matt Kuchar and Nick Watney, two more contenders for a debut at Celtic Manor, were on the same mark entering the closing stretch when play was called off.
Alongside Clarke, meanwhile, and still with 11 holes to go was England's Simon Khan, who at Wentworth in May was the shock winner of Europe's PGA title.
Six years ago Clarke was the first-round leader with a 65 and he said: “It is always nice to come back to where you have played well on before.
“It's a lot different to then though as it is softer and the greens are holding.
“I didn't get myself into any pain off the tee. The only hole I played badly was that last one there in the dark and to hole a 30-footer for par is a big ask.”
Montgomerie is well aware that if Clarke climbs into a qualifying spot he wants to play and not be an assistant.
That would leave the Scot needing to find a replacement in a hurry, although that can wait for the time being while he tries to deal with further publicity about personal matters.
Both Luke Donald and Ian Poulter have already come out and said Montgomerie has their full backing to continue in the job and Richard Hills, Europe's Ryder Cup director, issued a statement yesterday saying: “We have absolute confidence in Colin as Europe's captain and we look forward to him standing on the first tee at Celtic Manor when the 2010 Ryder Cup starts exactly 50 days from now.”
Montgomerie is also playing in Wisconsin, but from one under after four he fell back to five over after 14.
Rory McIlroy went in the opposite direction.
Three over after four, the 21-year-old had recovered to one
under after 13, while Scot Martin Laird and Ireland's Shane Lowry were on two under.
The Holywood star had a terrible start to his bid to win a first Major, suffering a double bogey at the fourth.
But McIlroy then came up with successive birdies to get back on track and a further birdie at the ninth got him back to level par.
Another birdie at the tenth and he was starting to move when play was halted.
Meanwhile, Luke Donald discovered only yesterday that Ryder Cup qualifying does not end when he thought it did.
Europe's nine automatic qualifiers and three wild cards will be named in two weeks at the end of the Johnnie Walker Classic in Gle
neagles. Like Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose and Paul Casey — the current favourites to be selected by captain Colin Montgomerie if they do not climb into the top nine — Donald plans to be at The Barclays event in America.
That finishes the same day as the tournament in Scotland, but does not count for points.
“I didn't even realise that until this morning — and it does not seem fair,” said Donald after starting the USPGA Championship with a level-par 72.
He is currently fourth on the world points list, but if he falls one spot on that he will require a wild card as well because five of the team are determined by European Tour earnings.
Harrington's hopes of avoiding the need for a pick from Montgomerie suffered a big blow with a 75 yesterday.
And Harrington said that it was only a week ago that he remembered the first of the FedEx Cup play-off series does not carry Ryder Cup points.