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Darren Clarke gets momentum building ahead of Ryder Cup

By Karl MacGinty

Darren Clarke wrapped up a four-tournament stint in South Africa yesterday with an uplifting performance at the Tshwane Open.

Clarke now begins in earnest the induction process as Ryder Cup captain with a spring in his step after registering only his second top 15 finish on the European Tour since his 2011 Open victory at Royal St George's.

He signed off at Pretoria Country Club's Irene Course with a steady one-under 69 which as ever might have been so much better had he tucked away his chances. Still, Clarke could take consolation from posting three successive rounds in the 60s for only the second time in 44 months.

The 46-year-old Ulsterman earned €18,806 in a share of 15th on five-under, leaving him nine behind George Coetzee, who clinched a hugely-popular home victory in front of lifelong friends and boyhood clubmates at Pretoria with a final round 65.

Coetzee won by one stroke to bring his haul of European titles to two (he also won last year's Joburg Open) after fellow South African Jacques Blaaw established the clubhouse lead with a record 61.

Clarke's next competitive outing will be the PGA Tour's Shell Houston Open next month. Taking place the week before the Masters, it will serve as his warm-up to the season's first Major at Augusta.

In the interim, Clarke returns 'home' for the first time since his appointment last month as Ryder Cup captain and, over the next couple of weeks, will be formally introduced to the men and women in the backroom who help put the European team on the road.

He'll also have an opportunity to sit down with staff at Tour HQ and work out in detail his schedule, duties and commitments as 2016 skipper in the run-up to the matches with the United States at Hazeltine in 18 months' time.

Once briefed, Clarke will perform his first formal media conference as European captain at a function at The Sofitel in London's Heathrow Airport next Monday.

Fair warning of the strength of America's rising Ryder Cup stars came from a thrilling final day of the Valspar Championship as Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, the hottest of Tom Watson's pairings at Gleneagles, forced their way into a three-way playoff on 10-under with fellow Texan Sean O'Hair.

Spieth won the eighth sudden death shootout on the US Tour this season by holing a 28 foot putt for birdie two at 17, the third playoff hole, to claim his second PGA Tour win at age 21.

Though he described the clinching putt as "just luck", Spieth scrambled brilliantly to force extra-time.

For eight-times US Tour-winner O'Hair, 32, a share of second was sweet after sliding from 12th in the world to 402nd.

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