A slimmer, leaner Darren Clarke today reminded everyone of the talent that helped him win the 2011 Open Championship with a thrilling five-under 67.
The Northern Irishman carded six birdies, with just a solitary bogey at the third, to vault into the top ten. And although he is probably too far adrift of compatriot Rory McIlroy to mount a genuine title challenge in Sunday’s final round, he is in with a real shot of posting his best finish since he lifted the Claret Jug at Royal St George’s in 2011.
Indeed, in 45 events since he landed his maiden major, Clarke’s best finish is a tie for 12th at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Now, though, he appears to be finally reaping the benefits of a gym regime that has seen him shed four stone over the past 12 months.
“I hoped was my problem,” revealed the 45-year-old after his round on Saturday. “If you’ve got 50 pounds or 60 pounds sitting in front of your gut, you’re going to swing a lot slower slower through the ball than what you would do otherwise.”
Having improved both his clubhead and ball speeds – and using slightly stiffer shafts than he did before – Clarke is seeing gains in his game.
"There can be no blame apportioned to the R&A at all." - Darren Clarke
“It took a little bit of time to adjust but the ball-striking is pretty good,” he said. “I just need to knock in a few putts and get some momentum going and it feels like I’ve started to do that.”
Clarke was out at 9.11am alongside American pair Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan, with the trio teeing off from the tenth hole as the R&A went to a two-tee start to combat the threat of heavy thunderstorms.
In the end, the inclement conditions never really materialised – steady rain early on was as bad as it got – which led some to criticise the R&A’s caution. Clarke, though, believes they were right not to take any risks.
“Obviously, it’s easy to say now that it was the wrong decision, looking at the weather that we’ve had thus far,” he said. “They had to do what they had to do to try and get it done today and they’re to do what’s best for the tournament, so there can be no blame apportioned to the R&A at all.”
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