Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Gentleman Darren Clarke still yearns to win Irish title

Darren Clarke is yet to lift the Irish Open crown but, as Peter Hutcheon reports, back in 2006 a fantastic piece of sportsmanship probably denied him the chance of victory

Darren Clarke

There’s an Irish Open trophy sized hole on Darren Clarke's mantelpiece, one that he is desperate to fill on his home Royal Portrush course.

Six years ago at Carton House he had the chance to add that coveted title to his CV but instead, under the most unusual of circumstances, he spurned it.

Yet in the process he enhanced his reputation as one of the most sporting figures in the game as his great friend Thomas Bjorn took the trophy back home to Denmark instead.

The foulest weather imaginable forced the tournament into a fifth day, the Monday morning and Clarke who had been two clear of the field standing on the ninth tee the day before, was still favourite to win.

His final shot into the wind and rain of an utterly miserable Sunday afternoon had been a three wood off that ninth tee which he crashed deep into the cabbage well right of the fairway. He was considering his options pondering the atrocious lie with caddie JP Fitzgerald and had decided all he could do was chip the ball out sideways with his wedge when the decision was made to call a halt to proceedings for the day.

The players returned that Monday morning to discover much brighter conditions and Clarke also discovered that his ball, which he'd left in place overnight, had magically resurrected itself from the roots of the rough, to sit invitingly on top.

Caddie JP immediately gave him the yardage, suggesting knocking an eight iron onto the green which, under normal circumstances,would have been precisely the shot to play.

But Clarke wasn't convinced and called for a ruling from European Tour referee John Paramour who arrived to assess the situation.

It was obvious to Clarke that well-meaning fans had trampled down the rough overnight and then placed his ball back on top.

Paramour advised him that there was nothing in the rules against playing the ball as it now lay and he was free to take full advantage of the situation.

But Clarke wasn't convinced, and after more careful consideration, he put the eight iron back in the bag and brought out instead the wedge and played the ball 100 yards or so back to the fairway.

“Yesterday I had a very poor lie and today when I got back out there, maybe people had

been looking for the ball and the grass was all flattened down,” he said immediately after the round.

“In any case it was a much better lie than it had been when I left it yesterday and when I came back to it I could have hit it onto the front of the green.

“But I felt if I had of done that I would have had to hold my head in shame all the way up to the green, so I just decided the best thing to do was to just chip it out and then play it as I would have played it last night. So that's what I decided to do.”

Clarke found the green easily with his third, but had left himself a lengthy par putt which he missed and the bogey five cut his lead to just a single shot over the field.

The Ulsterman also dropped shots at two of the finishing three holes, including a three-putt at the last, while Bjorn birdied the last two to win on five under par, one ahead of England's Paul Casey with Clarke in third place.

No-one will ever know if Clarke would have gone on to win the Irish Open had he not dropped that shot on the ninth, but it cemented his reputation as one of the most honest players in the game. “Darren's as good a sportsman as they come and what he did on the ninth shows his character,” Bjorn said after receiving the trophy.

“There's not another person in the world that I'd like to see win more than Darren.”

Clarke, who has had 14 wins in his European Tour career, would not win a tournament in 2006 and that third place finish at Carton House was his best performance of that season.

It wasn't until 2008 that he got back into the winner's circle when he won two tournaments and of course followed that up last year with his magnificent first Major win to huge popular acclaim at last year's Open Championship at Royal St George's. Clarke will return to Carton House when the Irish Open is staged there again for the first time since that sporting act, next summer.

But an Irish Open victory around his home course of Royal Portrush is the title he covets most.

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