Clarke ends European season on low

From Brian Keogh in Vilamoura

As the massive hitting Argentinian Daniel Vancsik took control of the Portugal Masters with a superb second round 66, Darren Clarke was already packing his bags and taking stock of the worst season of his 17-year European Tour career.

While Vancsik has missed more cuts this year than the Dungannon man, he did win the Madeira Island Open in March and looks likely to challenge for victory for the second weekend in succession after cruising into a two-stroke lead in the Portugal Masters on 14-under par.

In stark contrast to Vancsik, 39-year-old Clarke struggled to a one over par 73 at the Victoria Club and confessed that the only solution to a season of ill content could be a long winter lay-off.

“I could do with a couple of months away from the clubs and not look at them for a while and get ready for next year,” Clarke said, after missing his 12th cut of the season. "I've hit the ball good and lovely for two days and my caddie will say that as well, but I am not making a putt at all. But I am not going to keep on moaning about it because there is not much I can do but keep working as hard as I can.”

While he is set to play in Morocco and Singapore over the next two weeks, neither are European Tour events, which means that means that Clarke, who was 129th on the Order of Merit starting the week, has just completed his worst season since he turned professional in 1991.

Ranked 40th in the world at the start of the year, he has slipped 176 places to 216th and looks likely to fall further down the pecking order over the next few months.

While Clarke made his exit, his protege Rory McIlroy maintained his 100 percent record in professional events by grinding out a 69 to make the cut with a stroke to spare on four under par.
But the 18-year-old confessed that the top-two finish he needs to qualify for the Volvo Masters looks unlikely and he is simply looking forward to a break before resuming his career in the Hong Kong Open from November 16-19.

After finishing third and fourth in his last two starts, McIlroy said: "I didn't want this to be my last week and not make the cut. I still struggled a bit, but found something in the swing I'll go and work on. It would be nice now to have a good finish and then have a couple of weeks at home to reflect on all that's been going on.”

The race for the €500,000 top prize looks like a battle between the tour's big hitters with Vancsik two strokes clear of Sweden’s Martin Erlandsson, English pair Steve Webster and Ross Fisher and the equally long hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros.

Order of Merit contender Justin Rose is nine shots off the pace on five under par after a 70 but Paul McGinley missed the cut by two shots after a 74 with most of the damage caused by a triple bogey eight at the 547-yard, par-five 12th, where he made two visits to the water.

"My performance on the par fives has been absolutely appalling,” McGinley said. “Not only did I take an eight there but I had a six at the third when I was pin high in two and could get on the green from a horrendous lie.

"I am two over par for the par fives and there is no question that an extra 20 yards off the tee would make a difference to me. They are all on the limit for me and right over water as well.

"Looking at the leaderboard it is one big hitter after another. There is more than one way to skin a cat though, but I am not playing to my strengths."

Ireland will have just four players in action over the weekend with Peter Lawrie and Gary Murphy hitting rounds of 71 to finish on six under and five under par respectively while Damien McGrane making the cut on the mark after a 72.