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USPGA Championship: Morning misery but cool Clarke keeps head

By Karl MacGinty

Darren Clarke kept his temper remarkably well after tumbling off the USPGA leaderboard in dramatic fashion at Whistling Straits yesterday.

Among the 78 players unable to finish on Thursday night, Clarke was forced to wait another 160 minutes after more fog swept in over the Wisconsin course where he led the field with an opening 65 six years ago.

This time the Northern Irishman — still in with a chance of qualifying for the Ryder Cup and making captain Colin Montgomerie find another assistant — resumed one off the pace on three under par.

But after missing a 30-foot par putt on the 14th he bogeyed the next two as well, dropped two shots on the 223-yard 17th and had to hole an 18-foot putt at the last to remain two over.

Clarke's 74 put him seven adrift of new clubhouse leader Matt Kuchar, the former US Amateur champion who is now on the verge of clinching a Ryder Cup debut.

Dripping in sweat, but beaming a smile as he emerged from handing in his score, Clarke, who celebrates his 42nd birthday today said: “It just wasn't there.

“I just had a bad morning, that goes without saying. I was hoping for better, but that is the way it is. That's this golf course — if you make any poor shots you pay the penalty.”

He was desperately unlucky at the 17th, however.

On the same hole where he had a horror shank in 2004 he found sad left of the green this time.

“I was in a deep heel mark in the bunker. It was one of those that was supposed to be raked and someone had walked through it and it wasn't.

“Just one of those mistakes. I was lucky to move it five yards. There are so many out here (over a thousand) they are going to miss one now and again and just unfortunate I was the guy in it.”

Kuchar was playing with Montgomerie as he managed only a 79 in what might prove to be the 47-year-old's final major appearance.

Asked how he had practiced and where his expectations where the Scot, who for the second time this year has hit the headlines over his private life, replied: “There weren't. I couldn't. Sorry.”

He and all the other players in his half of the field went quickly back into action for the second round — and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano followed up his opening 70 with birdies at the 10th and 11th to move into a share of second spot.

Also four under were American Bubba Watson, Italian Francesco Molinari — it remained to be seen if they played any golf today because of the delays and the possibility of a storm later — South African Ernie Els and Korean teenager Noh Seung-yul.

Rory McIlroy, three over after four yesterday, fought his way back to two under, then double-bogeyed the 15th, but a birdie two holes later led to a 71.

“I think there is enough good in there to be positive about it,” said the 21-year-old.

“To make six birdies on this course is a good effort and I felt I did well to come back from the two double bogeys I made out there.

“But the rough is so penal and you have to just take your punishment at times. If I can limit the mistakes I made and maybe turn those doubles into bogeys — if I come across bad spots — then I feel there is a good one out there.”

Irish Open champion Ross Fisher had a desperately disappointing 78 and US Open winner Graeme McDowell bogeyed two of the last three for a 74 that was far off what he was hoping for as well.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson improved only one on that, while Steve Stricker, who could also replace Tiger Woods as world number one this weekend if Woods fails to back up his opening 71, had a 72.

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