DARREN CLARKE made Nick Faldo's job a little easier. With an Aug. 31 deadline looming, European captain Faldo has been facing questions about how he could possibly leave Ryder Cup stalwarts Clarke and Colin Montgomerie off the team, especially since Monty's absence would make this the first Cup without a Scot since 1937. Faldo has shown little inclination to bail out the struggling Montgomerie, but he has voiced a desire to pick Clarke, the emotional hero of the 2006 Cup. The problem was that Clarke, who has been inconsistent at best for most of the year, was no more justifiable a pick than Monty, as both were well down the two points lists that the Euros use to select their team. Then Clarke pulled off a four-shot win at last week's KLM Open at Kennemer Golf Club in the Netherlands with a 16-under 264 that included back-to-back 66s on the weekend. Clarke will tee it up again at this week's Johnnie Walker Championship because he doesn't want to assume anything, but his KLM win and his tie for sixth at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last month mean he's as good as in. What about Monty? Maybe Clarke needs a caddie.
• WHEN Cristie Kerr drained a 15-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole of the Safeway Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland, she became only the third U.S.-born player to win an LPGA event this year. In these post-Olympic days of medal counting, Kerr's victory brought the home total to five for the year, including three for Paula Creamer and one for Leta Lindley. Mexico has six Ws, all courtesy of Lorena Ochoa, while South Korea also has six wins, but they were accumulated by five players, suggesting a depth of talent that's the best in the game right now. Sweden, led by Annika Sorenstam's three triumphs, has had a strong year, with five overall, while Taiwan and Australia have one each. What does all this mean? As the U.S. economy struggles and sponsorship dollars dry up, the tour's international appeal and global business model may be the only things that pull it through. Maybe someone should tell Creamer to stop winning so much.... LPGA wannabes got a shot in the arm last week when the tour's members voted to increase the number of exemptions available to the top money winners on the Duramed Futures tour from five to 10. In 2002 only the top three received a pass for the following year, so in a short time the opportunity to be an extra in the Lorena Ochoa Show has more than tripled.
• GOING INTO last week Colt Knost and Jarrod Lyle had each won twice on the Nationwide tour, putting them in position to earn battlefield promotions to the PGA Tour. Would the Northeast Pennsylvania Classic in Moosic provide a breakthrough for one of them? Um, no. Knost and Lyle both missed the cut at Glenmaura National Golf Club, but they were joined on the battlefield watch list by Scott Piercy, who won the Wichita Open two weeks before, then triumphed last week with a 13-under 267.
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