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Clarke eyes Irish hat-trick

2011-07-15 16:48

Sandwich - Darren Clarke believes he can make it a hat-trick of Major titles for Northern Ireland at the British Open here this week.

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The 41-year-old Ryder Cup star from Portrush fired a second consecutive 68 at Royal St George's on Friday to put himself firmly in contention for the weekend on four under.

A win would come hard on the heels of compatriot Rory McIlroy's US Open triumph last month in Washington and follow Graeme McDowell's win in the same tournament last year.

"We've got back-to-back US Open champions from a little, small country like Northern Ireland. That's a massive achievement," he said.

"You can't explain how big that actually is. We've got two wonderful ambassadors for Northern Ireland in G-Mac and Rory and it's been great.

"But it hasn't really affected me apart from being proud that I'm from the same place as they are and I may have given them a little bit of a helping hand here and there on the way up."

A win for Clarke here on Sunday would be hugely popular for a player who had three top 10 finishes in the Open in a five-year spell from 1997, including a tie for second place at Troon in 1997 and a tie for third place at Royal Lytham in 2001.

Since then his fortunes have waxed and waned, along with his weight, and he will be forever remembered for his heroic performances in the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K-Club outside Dublin shortly after the death from cancer of his wife Heather.

A barren spell over the last two years came to an end in May when he won the Iberdrola Open in Mallorca and he feels he has the game to stay the course here, especially if, as predicted, the weather worsens.

"It would mean an awful lot, but obviously this is only after two rounds," he replied when asked what a win in the Open at his 20th attempt would mean to him at this late stage of his career.

"There's an awful long way to go yet, and I believe the forecast for the weekend is very, very poor, which I quite look forward to.

"But the course is going to play very, very tough. If that's the case, then the tournament is still wide open for an awful lot of players, and will be."

Clarke's round on Friday was a roller-coaster with an eagle and five birdies against a double-bogey and three birdies, the highlight of which he said was a "brave" seven iron into the heart of the 17th green.

"I'm either very brave or very stupid. I don't know which one I am frequently. But it was a shot that I wanted to take on," he said

AFP