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Darren Clarke's birthday wish

The best 41st birthday gift Darren Clarke could wish for tomorrow would be a putter that works.

The Ulsterman's never-ending search for satisfaction on the greens continued yesterday at Hazeltine, where he took a few putting tips from his agent Chubby Chandler, the one-time Tour pro who founded International Sports Management.

Yet as he enters his 50th Major, Clarke still seems better equipped than ever for the slings and arrows of Grand Slam golf.

The new Darren Clarke, who has taken on the responsibilities of single-parenthood since his wife Heather passed away three years ago, appears less fraught on the golf course, as illustrated by the following vignette from Firestone.

As he walked up the 11th fairway during Saturday's third round of the Bridgestone Invitational, Clarke spied the portly figure of an Irish golf writer (okay, it was me) on the other side of the rope.

“No often we see you out here on the golf course,” he hollered, helpfully pointing out a few features. “That's the rough and this is the fairway.”

And would you be a golfer?

“Some of the time,” replied Clarke wistfully.

He'd just completed a hat-trick of birdies through 10, which explained his good humour, but even a string of three untidy bogeys out of greenside bunkers at 12, 13 and 14 had little impact on his bonhomie.

Clarke is playing some high-class golf, evidenced by the 9-iron he hit to within millimetres of the cup at 17 that afternoon. His mood was still chipper after signing for a frustrating level par 70. “You're an effin jinx,” was his jocular post-round greeting.

As Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh have proved spectacularly, winning can still be a habit in the 40's.

Clarke won twice on Tour last year in an impressive bid to make the Ryder Cup team — an effort shamefully overlooked — but the US PGA invitee is in the humour to find his way back to the top of the heap.

Playing in only his fifth Major, Rory McIlroy's hoping for a top 10 at Hazeltine after impressive debuts at The Masters (T20) and the US Open (T10). His form dipped at Turnberry and Firestone but McIlroy, 20, could shake off the cobwebs with a good start today and make Major headlines come Sunday.

Graeme McDowell has been taking stick from caddie Ken Comboy for refusing to ride The Orange Streak, a roller-coaster at the gargantuan Mall of America nearby.

McDowell's form has taken a dip this season but he's satisfied the work he's done on his game with coaches Clive Tucker last week and Pete Cowen here will pay off with a big finish in the Race to Dubai and the World Cup. As for this week, perhaps we should consult the fairground fortune-teller.

Lee Westwood wasn't tempted to lie on the psychologist's couch after his heartbreaking finish to The Open at Turnberry. “Look at them,” he blurted. “They all look a bit odd, like they need to talk to somebody. I find it a bit hard to take anybody like that serious.”

Belfast Telegraph


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