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Darren Clarke hits form at Wentworth just in time for Irish Open bid

By Robert Jones

Back in form Darren Clarke gave himself a timely lift ahead of this week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open by shooting a six-under 66 in the final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth yesterday.

Korea's Byeong Hun won the event with Royal County Down bound Miguel Angel Jimenez runner-up.

European Ryder Cup captain Clarke (46) fired five birdies in the opening 12 holes at the tour's flagship event before dropping his first shot of the day at the short 14th yesterday.

However, he took advantage of the closing par-fives with two birdie fours securing a two-under final aggregate of 286.

"It's been coming but it's the first time I've taken it on to the course for a while," said the Dungannon man.

Clarke was named 2016 Ryder Cup captain in February, succeeding Ireland's Paul McGinley, but his form has been scratchy since his appointment.

His best finish on the European Tour this season was a tie for 15th at the Tshwane Open in South Africa in March.

If he brings that kind of form back to Royal County Down, a course he knows well, Portrush-based Clarke will have extra incentive to do well with his home crowd behind him when he tees up on Thursday in the Irish Open first round at Newcastle in the tournament hosted by world No1 Rory McIlroy, through his charitable Foundation.

Among the other leading players taking part are Rickie Fowler, who arrived at the course yesterday, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer. Several of those players are expected to join Rory on Wednesday in visiting the nearby NI Cancer Fund for Children's Daisy Lodge short break centre at Tollymore - the centre is supported by the Rory Foundation.

The event has sold out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with 20,000 fans due to pass through the famous Royal County Down gates each day.

Only Thursday tickets now remain but they are also expected to sell out soon. Fans can also catch their golfing heroes in action at the Practice Day on Tuesday or at the Pro Am on Wednesday.

Meanwhile back at Wentworth, Korea's Byeong Hun An hailed a "life-changing" victory after confirming the promise he showed as an amateur with a commanding win in the BMW PGA Championship.

An carded a final round of 65 to finish 21 under par and beat the previous tournament record by two shots, finishing six ahead of veterans Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thongchai Jaidee.

England's Chris Wood was two shots further back in fourth after a closing 66 which included winning a BMW i8 worth £100,000 for a hole-in-one on the 14th, a tournament-record fifth ace of the week.

An is just the third player to win the European Tour's flagship event on their debut and claimed the first prize of £600,000, just 11 months after he was earning £1,581 for finishing joint 25th in the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Aviemore.

And the 23-year-old - who became the youngest winner of the US Amateur title in 2009 at the age of 17 - moves from 132nd in the world rankings to inside the top 60 as a result, securing his place in the US Open and Open Championship.

"It's like a fifth major to me. It's the biggest title I have won and gets me into a lot of events. This is life-changing," An said. "I'm still really excited and over the moon right now.

"I wasn't expecting this. I didn't know that a win was this close. It came all of a sudden. I've been playing well all year but I never thought I would win this event.

"I played really well today. I was nervous at the start of the day but confident on every hole because I was hitting it well and putting nicely. I made some mistakes but being bogey-free I think is very good out here.

"It was great to go into the last hole with a six-shot lead and I love that I'm the first Asian to win this event. It's great."

Belfast Telegraph


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