Duo hit comeback trail

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke and David Higgins will hit the comeback trail in this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.

Set to play the next four events on the trot, Clarke is determined to build on his performance at the US PGA in Tulsa and haul himself back up the world rankings.

But it’s also a huge week for Higgins, who missed a great chance to secure his tour card at the KLM Open in Holland on Sunday.

Two bogeys in the last three holes led to a closing 72 that cost the Waterville man nearly €50,000 in his battle for full status next season.

But the Kerry ace, 34, believes he will learn from his mistakes and secure a place in the tour’s top 115 before the end of the season.

Tied for 17th in Holland, Higgins confessed: “I could have won yesterday and it was definitely a chance lost. It’s not that I blew it. But I just didn’t hit good shots and didn’t drive the ball well on that back nine.

“The most important things that mentally I felt great. I felt very comfortable at the start of the back nine - 10, 11, 12, 13 - but I got ahead of myself I suppose and got fast on things.

“I got quick and started thinking ahead and I didn’t stay calm like I had all week. But I will learn from it. The next time I am in there I will know better."

Clarke is a lowly 143rd in the world and without a top ten finish on tour since last year’s Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.

But his second round 66 in Tulsa has given him hope that he is about to turn the corner and he’s looking forward to a four-week run in Europe.

Speaking from New York, where he entertained corporate clients his sponsors during last week's Barclays Classic, Clarke said: “I am not used to being a tournaments where I am not competing but I have had a year where I haven’t played my best for other reasons.

“So I have got to start playing better again and try and get back next year. My game is pretty good.

“I have got four tournaments coming up and hopefully I will start to get myself back up there again.”

England’s Paul Casey will defend the title at Gleneagles where Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie and Gary Murphy complete the Irish contingent.

But the man under the most pressure is Higgins, who earned just €19,653 in Holland and only moved up eight places in the Order of Merit to 148th.

With €2 million on offer at the Scottish links, including €343,692 for the winner, the Kerryman knows that he has another chance to grab the cash he needs to secure his card

A top 10 finish in Scotland would be enough to push Higgins into the top 115 on the money list.

And he believes he will be better prepared to deal with the pressure of contending if he makes another run this week.

Higgins said: “I am playing well and the more times I get myself in there the better I will be able to deal with it.

“I had things going on around me in Holland - TV cameras and stuff like that - and that is a big difference to what I have been used to over the last few months.

“When you take time to look at things, that has to be something normal for you. I know I will do better next time and slow things down a lot more.

“I was nine holes away from a very good result. I picked up a few more quid towards getting my card. It is promising and Gleneagles is a course where I have performed well before.

“I have got to keep going. You can’t sit back. You have to keep going and try an get yourself up there more often, that’s all.”