Bad start for Clarke at Mount Juliet

By Brian Keogh
Sad Darren Clarke watched his million dollar dreams go up in smoke at the American Express Championship and moaned, "I played like a ten handicapper out there."

Clarke even had to take off his shoes and socks and wade into the lake at the 18th on his way to a double bogey finish and a three over par 75.

Playing partner Phil Mickelson bogeyed the last but the American star still managed seven birdies in a roller-coaster 70 that was full of class.

It was a sharp contrast to an out of sorts Clarke, who was one under par after five holes but then made three bogeys in a row to turn in two over and failed to recover.

He missed the green at the seventh and failed to get up and down and then three putted the eighth before finding greenside side again at the ninth and failing to save par.

Clarke said: "I just had a poor day. I don't know why because I was on the range working on my game until 7.45 yesterday evening.

"Then I go out and I play like a ten handicapper. I just keep making stupid mistakes and it is a bit frustrating."

Three putts from 40 feet at the first led to an opening bogey that set the tone for Clarke of the rest of the day.

Mickelson, in contrast, opened in sensational style - holing putts of six and 15 feet for birdies at the first and second.

Even when the world number two dumped his six iron tee shot into the lake a the par three third for a double bogey five he bounced back with birdies at the fourth and fifth.

But Clarke was off colour from the start, despite getting his round back on track with birdies at the fourth and par five fifth.

In the end the Irish Ryder Cup star hit just seven of fourteen fairways in regulation and took a miserable 34 putts to get round the Jack Nicklaus designed course.

Further at the tenth and 17th were not enough to make up for five bogeys and that double bogey six at the 481 yard 18th.

"I was just trying to hit it straight," said Clarke of his drive at the last. "But I pulled it a little left and it ended up on the bank of the lake."

Clarke had to stand in the water and after knocking his second shot up to within 120 yards of the green he left his third 25 feet past the pin, raced his putt three feet past and missed the return.

Mickelson drew a large mid-morning gallery and the fans were treated to some wonderful shot-making from the man that is pressing Tiger Woods at the top of the world rankings.

He said: "It was a real fun round even though I had an up and down day. The greens were rolling just perfect and even though I didn't go as low as I wanted to go, I really enjoyed myself out there."

The man from Scottsdale in Arizona trickled in a downhill six-footer for birdie at the fourth, holed from 10 feet for birdie at the fifth and then chipped in for par at the sixth.

Although he gave back a birdie at the eighth with a bogey at he next, Mickelson dropped another at the 12th before making back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th.

"I'm not in a bad position, I guess. I thought if I could shoot six or seven under that I would be up there in the top ten.

"I'm not in the thick of it, but there is plenty of time," he grinned.

But Mickelson was full for praise for the Kilkenny course.

"It's in great shape and the greens are rolling beautifully. There is a nice mixture of holes. You have to shape the ball both ways and there is water in front and to the side, which is fun.

"Sure, there are some birdie holes out there but you can also run up some high numbers."