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The Open: Clarke in form to be contender, says guru

By Peter Hutcheon

Darren Clarke is close to being at the very top of his game, according to his some-time coach Ewen Murray.

Murray, more widely known as a commentator on Sky, believes that if Clarke plays as well at the Open as he did last week at Loch Lomond where he finished second, he could be in with a great chance at St Andrews.

“Last week he returned to a simple thought of turning around his centre on both sides of the ball,” he said.

“That works well for him and his long game was superb. I talked to him after his runner-up finish and said he has to erase doubts he should not have.

“On what was a tough day he missed one fairway off the tee, but his putting I thought was fragile.

“That comes from the mind's interference and him trying to be too precise. Putting is a game within a game and there are few ground rules. Being comfortable over the ball is more important than anything.”

Clarke has still not given up on his chances of playing his way onto Colin Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup team for Celtic Manor and playing his way into the Open was a huge boost in that direction.

But he needs more weeks like Loch Lomond if he is to do it, and preferably another tick in the tournament victories column.

Murray has no doubt that he can win again and sees no reason why it can’t be this week — and he’s invested a few quid with a Scottish bookie to that effect.

“Darren has as natural a swing as you are ever likely to see,” he explained.

“I have never believed that he needed a full-time coach and last year I took a step back because we had become so close, which I don’t think is a good thing for teacher or player.

“I still see him from time to time as does Europe’s top coach Pete Cowan.

“I speak to Pete and Darren about his swing and we are both along the same lines on what he needs to do.

“When I say things to Darren he doesn't always believe it is that simple, but if the truth be told it is. I'm sure Pete would agree.

“I would like to see Darren play the rest of the season without any tuition, just play the way he was born to play.”

Meanwhile fellow Ulsterman Gareth Maybin is relishing the prospect of competing in his first Open — and completing the second part of a quite unusual double.

The 29-year-old came through the incredibly tough qualifying competitions for both last month’s US Open via Walton Heath and then at Sunningdale for the Open.

And it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility for a qualifier to go on to win — that’s precisely the route New Zealander Michael Campbell took to victory at Pinehurst five years ago.

But in the formidable shadow of Rory McIlroy and current US Open champion Graeme McDowell, few outside his home town Ballyclare are talking of him as a potential Open winner just yet.

Yet up until McIlroy’s breakthrough win in America at Quail Hollow in early May, it was Maybin who was the form player of the five Ulstermen on tour.

He started the season with a fourth place in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, then followed it up with 20th in the Dubai Desert Classic, tenth in the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco, and second at the Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea.

Although he obviously spends most of his time away from home, his has a house in Doagh and his family home is just a five-iron from the Ballyclare clubhouse and Maybin represents the club on tour.

Whatever happens this week, he will leave St Andrews with much fonder memories than his visit in 2004 during his amateur days.

Playing in the St Andrews Links Trophy, he was knocked unconscious by a stray ball from the neighbouring Eden course.

Belfast Telegraph

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