Clarke boost in South Africa

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke got a massive Christmas boost with his first top-ten finish for 18 months in the South African Airways Open.

The struggling Ulsterman, 39, closed with a four under par 68 to finish tied for third place on one under par at Pearl Valley Golf Estate and land a huge haul of Ryder Cup and World Ranking points.

South Africa's James Kingston took the title by a shot from England's Oliver Wilson (73) after a final round 71 left him on four under par.

Tied for 16th starting the day, Clarke reeled off three birdies in his first five holes to surge up the leaderboard.

And while he bogeyed the ninth, he picked up two more shots coming home for the joint second best round of the day.

Ranked 258th in the world, Clarke is sure to rise today after crashing 218 places down the rankings this year from 40th in January.

He was ranked 19th in the world when he claimed his last top ten finish - a share of fifth place in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in July 2006.

Clarke pocketed a cheque for €48,750 to jump to 90 places to 30th in the Order of Merit and up to 80th in the European Ryder Cup Points list.