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Clarke on the up Down Under

Darren Clarke nails his approach into the 9th green at Coolum during the first round of the Australian PGA Championship (Photo: Anthony Powter) www.golffile.ieDarren Clarke is on course to finish his worst ever season with his best finish for 18 months.

The Ulsterman, 44, came back from a slow start to card a three under par 69 in the Australian PGA at Coolum and go into the weekend in an 11-way tie for 10th place, just five shots behind leaders Daniel Popovic and China’s Xin Jun Zhang.

Former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy is lurking just two shots off the lead after rounds of 67 and 69 left him tied for third with Matthew Griffin (69-67).

But Clarke is also hanging around near the business end of the leaderboard after a sterling second round performance - his sixth consecutive round at par or better.

Intrguigingly, it came after he retweeted Rory McIlroy’s message of support for Paul McGinley in 2014. A sign, perhaps, that Clarke believes he will get the job in 2016 and feels confident enough to step aside for the matches at Gleneagles? Perhaps not.

Either way, he was in fighting form last night. After bogeys at the 11th and 12th, he birdied the 16th and the par-five first before finishing strongly with three birdies in his last four holes.

Of course, he still has a lot of work to do to threaten the leaders or home favourite Ogilvy.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Ogilvy agreed his experience of being in contention heading to the weekend put him in a good position to attack.

‘‘It helps. Being on the first tee can be a scary place the first few times you are there on the weekend,’’ said the 2006 US Open winner and 2008 Australian PGA champion.

‘‘There is a no substitute for experience. It’s a nice advantage to have but there are a lot of good golfers in this field playing well and there is still a long way to go.’’

Popovic said he was ‘‘stoked’’ to still be on top of the leaderboard.

‘‘I can’t get the smile off my face actually,’’ he said.

LEADERBOARD

-10: Xin Jun Zhang (CHN), Daniel Popovic (AUS)
-8: Matthew Griffin (AUS), Geoff Ogilvy (AUS)
-7: Brad Kennedy (AUS), Mathew Goggin (AUS), Steven Bowditch (AUS)
-6: Peter Senior (AUS), Rod Pampling (AUS)
——
-5: Darren Clarke