Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Darren Clarke overcomes his mental hurdle

"This one was the toughest of the lot and to be back in the winner's circle again feels really, really good."

So said a jubilant Darren Clarke, a winner again on the European Tour after a gap of almost five years.

He found it almost impossible to handle the emotion coming down the stretch in China and confessed afterwards that thoughts of his late wife Heather and his two boys Conor and Tyrone flooded through his mind over the closing holes.

Dropped shots on the 16th and 17th holes made it a much more tense finish than it should have been as Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen was level going down the last, but just as he had in playing such a vital part in winning the Ryder Cup for Europe two years ago, he dug deep and pulled a 25-foot winning putt out of the bag on the last to win by one.

"This is the very top. I have been working harder than I have ever worked before."

"I have been putting in nine-hour days and it is nice to see it pay off. It is a big mental hurdle that I have overcome."

That last comment is a telling one because he had put himself in a position to win earlier this season in the Maybank Malaysian Open in March but fell away to finish only 10th.

Still, he has now managed four top ten finishes in the 2008 season (two of them in the 2007 calendar year), is up to 14th on the European Order of Merit and his world ranking is now heading in the right direction after falling outside the top 250.

Winning again has boosted his chances of making it to Kentucky for September's Ryder Cup, although he still lies only 28th on the European qualification list and will need another win or two to play his way onto the side.

But he if carries on the way he is going - and the hard work he is putting in is obviously paying off - he could make an unanswerable case to claim one of Nick Faldo's two wild card choices.

No-one could argue that he didn't let Ian Woosnam down two years ago at the K Club, played in the aftermath of Heather's death from cancer.

There were plenty of people who felt that his career was in a perpetual downward spiral when he returned to full-time golf last season only to miss a series of cuts.

But he has been determined to play his way back to the top and has worked tirelessly this year, particularly on the putting green which has always been the most suspect part of his game.

"It's been a very difficult time obviously and I have put in some long days at home to get back here," he said.

"There's always doubt but there's been more frustration than doubt.

"I've had great support and it's nice to come out the other side. This one's very special and the toughest of all of them."

Derksen had double-bogeyed the par-three 14th after he chipped into the water and though Clarke bogeyed the same hole he still moved two strokes clear at the top of the leaderboard. From then it seemed the win would be a formality for Clarke but bogeys on the 16th and 17th meant he went to the last level par with Derksen.

But faced with a tough snaking 25-foot putt on the last, he sent it straight into the hole for a final round 73 in tough conditions to win by a single shot.

"On that last hole I gathered myself and hit a good putt and luckily it went in," he said.

"It was always going to be a difficult hurdle for me to get back into the winner's circle after Heather had passed away."

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