Injured Clarke withdraws at Sawgrass

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke's nightmare season continued at Sawgrass as a niggling hamstring injury forced him to withdraw from the $9 million Players Championship.

The Ulsterman, 38, pulled out after just six holes of his first round as the injury he picked up playing football with his son Conor flared up again.

Forced to withdraw for the second week on the trot, Clarke groaned: "I have just got to bite the bullet and take my time. It was bothering me right from the start again and I have been struggling all week.

"I didn't hit any balls or do anything at all yesterday to try and rest it completely and hope that it would be better today.

"It is an awful lot better than it was last week but I can't swing the way I want to swing and I am worried in case I do any more damage to it. "

World No 3 Phil Mickelson and South African Rory Sabbatini fired five under par 67s to grab the early lead in high winds near Jacksonville as Tiger Woods failed to make even one birdie in a three over par 75.

But Woods' frustration did not come close to matching Clarke's as the Dungannon man left the course with a question mark over his participation in next week's Irish Open at Adare Manor

Clarke pulled his hamstring after a two-footed challenge from his eldest son Conor, 8, in a back garden kickabout four weeks ago.

He then missed his fourth cut on the trot in the Spanish Open before pulling out before the second round of the Wachovia Championship last week.

Languising at 82nd in the world rankings, Clarke decided not to hit balls at Sawgrass this week to try and give the injury time to heal.

But the pain proved to be too much as he hit one birdie and two bogeys in his first six holes before heading for the clubhouse.

Clarke explained: "I've been doing all the right things, icing it and having massage on it. I am trying to get better and everyone keeps tell me the same thing, that rest is the best thing for it.

"But I am not very patient and I want to play golf. I want to get back to competing again but it is another knock for me, another blow.

"I had to make a sensible decision and I decided that enough is enough."

Asked what his children might be thinking, Clarke said: "They will be wondering what it going on but I won't be playing football in the back garden in the near future, that's for sure. I am definitely a much better golfer than a footballer anyway."

Padraig Harrington went to the turn in four over par 39 as he racked up five bogeys in just one birdie.

The Dubliner took an age to complete the par five ninth, where he miscued a driver from the fairway and then flew the green with a risky third from a severe sideslope.

After a long wait for a ruling, he got a free drop, half-fluffed his fourth from 40 yards and did well to save bogey from 11 feet.