scorecard isn't up to the job. Low numbers imply a mastery of circumstances
greater than life allows. High numbers convey calamity where none exists. The
golfer signs, the scorekeeper attests, and the card goes into a box. � Darren
Clarke exposed the scorecard's shortcomings last week when he shot 67-82 and
missed the cut by six strokes at Royal Liverpool. Nowhere on the card was there
a place to record the pertinent fact that Clarke's wife, Heather, the mother of
his two sons, was reportedly close to losing her four-year struggle with breast
cancer. Neither was there a line for the four-time Ryder Cupper from Northern
Ireland to pencil in what he told reporters last Thursday evening: "I won't
play again for the foreseeable future. I've got other, more pressing things to
things that he's going through," said Tiger Woods, who could speak from
experience, having lost his father, Earl, to cancer in May. "It's not fun
to watch someone you love deteriorate right in front of you. It's very, very
difficult to handle." For the athlete, Woods could have added, there is the
further problem of having to "play" while the loved one fights for
golf is a business, isn't it? Clarke had looked sharp in two tune-ups for the
Open Championship, finishing 15th at the Smurfit's European Open and tying for
fifth at the Barclay's Scottish Open. In both cases he played mindlessly and
well for three rounds--"on autopilot," as he put it--only to falter
when the chance for victory presented itself on the final day. "My mind's
not always what it needs to be," he explained at Hoylake, meaning, where it
needed to be.
been prone to mood swings, and this situation has obviously added
pressure," said Chubby Chandler, Clarke's manager. "I never know how
Darren is going to feel until I talk to him after a round."
One thing was
never in doubt: Clarke was eager to play at Royal Liverpool. The Open is the
tournament he most wants to win, and of the four majors it is the one that best
suits his game. He likes fast, firm, windblown courses. He putts well on
seaside grasses. He accepts the unpredictable bounces and the quirky lies.
"This is pure links, as good as it gets," Clarke said on Thursday,
baffled by those who found the ancient layout homely and uninspiring. "I
have to say, I don't know what course they were looking at. You can putt it,
chip it, hit a five-iron from 40 yards. It's nice to play a tournament where
you can land it four yards short of the green if you want to."
circumstances Clarke probably would have traveled directly from Glasgow to
Liverpool after the Scottish Open. Instead he flew to his home near London to
be with his family, delaying his arrival at Hoylake until lunchtime on Tuesday.
That limited his pretournament practice to 11/2 trips around the hot, parched
course, which looked as if it might ignite if Clarke got careless with one of
his cigarettes. On Thursday morning he hit the ball erratically on the range
but found solace on the putting clock, where his stroke felt better than it had
for a long time. He told Chandler, "It would be like me to hole everything
and play poorly today."
Playing with Phil Mickelson and a practically invisible Yasuharu Imano, Clarke
was one over par at the turn but kept his round alive with some par saves. He
then found his form and rewarded the big gallery with four birdies on the march
back to the clubhouse. Afterward Clarke revealed that he had gotten a call the
previous evening from Conor O'Brien, the former team physician for the Irish
Olympic team and a longtime friend. O'Brien thought Clarke's run of Sunday
letdowns might be due to dehydration, so he had advised the golfer to imbibe
fewer rounds of Guinness and to top off instead with isotonic drinks. "It
seemed to work today," said Clarke, lighting another cigarette.
One Irish newsman,
aghast at the thought of Clarke's sipping translucent liquids, challenged him.
"Are you going to do what the doctor ordered?"
"Just for a
change," Clarke said, smiling at last.
reminded everyone of why Clarke, 37, is so popular in Europe. Like the stock
Irishman of fiction, he generally faces down trouble with a quip and a call for
another pint. Also like the stereotype, he refuses to grow up. He plays with
cars (a Bentley, a Jaguar, a BMW and a Ferrari); he swans about in slacks from
London's Tony the Tailor, who doesn't mind working in shades of puce or
fluorescent green; he invests in racehorses with his friend Lee Westwood. Left
to his own devices, Clarke would probably give up tournament golf to indulge
his passion for ... golf. "Darren has to be the world's best recreational
golfer," says David Howell, a teammate on Europe's victorious 2004 Ryder
Cup team. "I had to cut down what we were betting because I was losing
three or four hundred quid a week."