Darren Clarke recaptures lost form

By: corthing

Darren Clarke’s fourth place yesterday in the Joburg Open, won by Richard Sterne, meant a good deal to him.

“I played well and I feel like the player I was half a dozen years ago, when I was in the world’s top 10,” said the 39-year-old after a three-under-par 68 in the final round of this European Tour event at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

Clarke’s 273 aggregate left him two shy of a play-off with South Africa’s Sterne and Garth Mulroy and Swede Magnus Carlsson, but the Northern Irishman, who had dropped to 229 in the rankings, had a smile on his face.

“I hit the ball well and three birdies in the last five holes suggests I’ve still got quite a bit of fight in me,” said Clarke, whose strong finish here comes after an encouraging tie for third in his last start, in the South African Open before Christmas. “Everything I’ve been working on seems to be coming together and I really feel like a golfer again.”

Clarke’s game had gone sour following the loss of his wife Heather to cancer in August 2006, but he appears at last to have rediscovered the magic formula. “I’ve definitely turned a corner,” he said. “It’s a Ryder Cup year and I’ve got everything to play for.”

Clarke is looking fit and strong and timing the ball superbly. For 39, he is hitting the ball a long way and some of his big drives yesterday helped him collect a handful of birdies.

In the play-off, Sterne, Mulroy and Carlsson all birdied the par-five 18th first time around. They went back to the tee and Sterne made four again while the other two could only manage pars.

“I hit some very special shots coming home, but then I had to,” said Sterne, who completed the inward loop in just 31 strokes, including birdies at the 17th and 18th.

In Honolulu, South Korea’s KJ Choi responded to the backing of his fans by closing in on a seventh PGA Tour victory as he forged four shots clear in the third round of the Sony Open.

Eleven of Choi’s closest friends, wearing matching yellow shirts and waving their national flag, supported him out on the course after flying to Hawaii from Korea earlier in the day. Two ahead overnight, the world No?9 kept his challengers at bay with a four-under-par 66 at Waialae Country Club.

PGA Tour rookie Tim Wilkinson, of New Zealand, had a 62 to lie second at 11 under, a stroke in front of Americans Steve Marino and Kevin Na.

Englishman Kenneth Ferrie had to withdraw before the third round because of a stomach virus. Opening rounds of 66 and 70 had left him just seven strokes off the lead.
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