By Brian Keogh
Darren Clarke hoped for Open fireworks - then ended up with a damp squib.
The Ulster kingpin rolled into Sandwich on high after top five finishes in his last two events.
But he hit a second 75 on the trot yesterday and admitted that he’ll need a miracle to win the title.
Clarke said: “It’s like banging your head off a brick wall. This is the biggest tournament in the world and I look forward to it every year.
“My game just wasn’t there and I never got the bounce of the ball today. Any time I hit it in the rough I seemed to be buried - that’s just what happened.”
At eight over par, Clarke needs to shoot the lights out to have any chance of getting back into the shake-up for the title.
But with the kind of luck he had yesterday, he has no chance.
It started to go wrong at the opening hole when his three-wood tee shot sailed off into heavy rough on the right to left tail-wind.
After slashing his way back to the fairway he almost holed his third but failed to save par from 18 feet.
His mood improved with a birdie four at the fourth but another bad bounce at the eight cost him his second bogey and after turning in one over, he never got it back.
Three putts from just off the green on the 242 yard 11th put him two over for the day and six over for the Championship
But the last straw came at the par five, 550 yard 14th where he was told he was on the clock for slow play and finished up with a bogey six.
Clarke hit two might blows to be just short of the green in two and after electing to use his putter he rushed his shot and his putt streaked across the green and over the other side.
He explained: “At 14 I hit two great shots up there - a great drive, a great three-wood - I was just short of the green. We were on the clock and I was rushing a little bit.
“There was a rise in front and I thought if I could get it up over the first bit I could catch the left to right break but I hit it a bit too hard and it missed the break and went through the green. Typical for me I hit two great shots and walk off with bogey.”
Another shot went at the last where he pushed his drive into the right rough and could only hack his ball up to within 50 yards of the green.
Needless to say his 20 footer for par failed to drop.
Resigned to wait another year for his Open chance to come again, he was in surprisingly reasonable spirits afterwards.
He sighed: “In all honesty I need to be hitting the ball better. I need to be hitting it better than today to give myself a chance.
“I played an awful lot better than yesterday. I hit the ball great for the first nine holes but on a links course you have to land the ball 30 yards short of the green and today it was kicking straight left or kicking straight right into trouble.
“Nothing seemed to go my way. If I had hit the ball as badly as yesterday I would be a few more over par but hit it okay. That’s links golf.
“I’ve hit some great shots straight down the flag and walked off taking bogeys. It’s difficult when you hit good shots and don’t get rewarded for them.”
As for the weekend, Clarke knows that he will need something very special to get back into the title race.
“Anything can happen out there and a player who can stay around level par won’t be far away.
“Davis has played fantastic golf for two days and the worst score he could have had is what he’s on.
“Maybe over the weekend I’ll get some good bounces. I hit a fantastic shot down the flag at the 11th and it kicked 50 feet left and I took three-putts.
“This golf course is not like regular Open golf courses. This course is more punishing than regular courses. It shows up flaws in ball striking.”
Clarke had arrived at Sandwich off a fifth place finish in the Smurfit European Open at the K Club and a runner-up spot behind Ernie Els in Loch Lomond.
Amazingly it took just 24 hours for his game to desert him.
He said: “I was perturbed with the state of my game when I arrived. I look forward to this every year. It’s the biggest tournament in the world and I just wish I was in better form.