Darren Clarke hasn't won a tour event since he claimed The Open at Royal St George's in 2011. He's also had just two top 10 finishes since then — one in China and one in Australia. But he could make it three if he finishes the job in the Emirates Australian Open in the early hours on Sunday.
Europe's Ryder Cup captain, now ranked 603rd in the world, carded a one under 70 in Saturday's third round at The Australian Golf Club to go into the final day tied for seventh on one under par, nine shots behind the impressive leader, Matt Jones.
"I hit the ball really, really well again," said Clarke, who could not resist giving golf writer John Huggan a hard time as he wielded the TV interviewer's mic for the first time.
"I made some silly mistakes and lost my way there for the last three holes on the back nine. I made some silly bogeys, just lost my speed on the greens. But I hit an awful lot of shots straight down the flag again.
The secret to Clarke's lofty position on the leaderboard could be that he's simply enjoying himself.
"This is a proper golf course," he said. "You've got to play around here. You don't just smash it. You've got to shape shots into areas of greens. It's proper golf instead of just firing darts all the time.
"I just want to keep enjoying the golf course the way I am.. I think it is a wonderful challenge. it's in awesome condition and a bit of breeze just toughens it up. There are a lot of tough shots to be hit out there so I just want to go out there and hit some shots and go on improving my game, as I have been of late and putt the same again and maybe have a good score again."
Clarke isn't the hole player having a ball. Home favourite Jones (68) leads by three strokes on 10 under from defending champion and friend Jordan Spieth (67), who holed his approach for an eagle two at the 17th and then two-putted the 18 for closing birdie — a great turnaround having been three over after four.
As Golf Australia reported:
Jones, like Spieth, based in Texas, said playing with the defending champion on a regular basis would help him overcome nerves tomorrow.
“Definitely. I’ve played many rounds with Jordan on the PGA Tour and in practice rounds. He’s a great guy, No.1 in the world and just very humble and very down to earth, which is fantastic,” Jones said.
“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun out there. We can joke around out there, which is good, because you can’t do that with a lot of other golfers and that will make it more enjoyable to be out there.
“(There’d) be no better person to beat on the final day and have him in the group with me. To have the chance to win is what you want, and to go up against the number 1 in the world is even better."
After his potentially calamitous opening stretch, Spieth, pumped in his title defence, went seven under – even with a bogey on the eighth – in a run inspired by caddie Michael Greller.
"Michael did a great of setting the goal for me there,'' the 22-year-old said.
"He said, 'Right, let's get to even par for the day by the time we step on 18 tee box. That way we can shoot under par and move on'.
“He said, 'Enough of this crap. No bad self-talk. Let's hit some greens, you've got some easy holes coming up'.
“That's all I really needed to hear to help turn it around.''
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