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Rory McIlroy can stun critics at the Open Championship, insists Darren Clarke

And Rory's old mentor reveals the new club McIlroy has in the bag this week

By Liam Kelly

Darren Clarke joined Justin Rose in sounding a warning to those who write off Rory McIlroy's chances of winning a second Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale this week.

Clarke, the 2011 champion, is going through a horrible time on the fairways, and has not played 72 holes in 14 tournaments dating back to last year's Open.

But yesterday he looked in cheerful mood as he played a practice outing with McIlroy (right), who, as a young player, was a protege of Clarke's.

The two Ulstermen whose success in major championships, along with that of Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, helped persuade the R&A to bring the Open to Royal Portrush in 2019, played nine holes at Birkdale.

Clarke was asked if he had been giving any help to McIlroy. "Why would I possibly need to help Rory McIlroy? He is swinging well. He's hitting it pretty good and he's stroking it well, but he's not holing any putts, though.

"He's put a one-iron in the bag and it's going like a bullet. He's playing nicely. I'm expecting him to get the season going and have a good week," said Clarke.

Earlier Justin Rose, the Olympic champion, had spoken about the difficulties of coming back from an injury, such as the rib problem that curtailed McIlroy's golf this year.

"When you come out of the injury phase and you feel good and you feel fresh and you feel ready to play golf again, you somewhat expect your game to be there.

"But there's an element of just being back to being tournament sharp. And the one thing about Rory is as soon as you question him, he'll do something special and turn it all around."

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