Nightmare start to Ryder Cup for Clarke

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke got his 2008 Ryder Cup campaign off to a nightmare start in Switzerland.

The hero of Europe's record-equalling victory at The K Club opened with a four-over par 75 in the Omega European Masters at Crans-Sur-Sierre.

And that left him nine shots behind early pace-setter and defending champion Bradley Dredge of Wales, who posted a five-under par 66.

Ulsterman Clarke, 39, has made five of his last six cuts after a horrendous run of form earlier this season.

But he will have to produce a stellar second round to make the cut today after combining three birdies with three bogeys and two late double bogeys.

Starting on the 10th, Clarke opened with a birdie three in an event that was delayed by two hours because of frost.

But bogeys at the 12th, 13th and 18th outweighed a birdie at the par-five 14th as he lurched to the turn in one over par.

A birdie at the par-five first put Clarke back to level par but he then double bogeyed the third and the sixth to finish the day two shots outside the top 65 and ties who make the cut tonight.

Damien McGrane has just one birdie in a six over par 77 as Peter Lawrie opened his account with a disappointing 74.

And it was almost as bad for Portrush native Graeme McDowell, who closed with a pair of bogeys as he posted a two over par 73.

Clarke wasn't the only Ryder Cup player to struggle in the first qualifying event for Nick Faldo's 2008 Ryder Cup side.

While Leee Westwood hit an even par 71, England's David Howell continued his alarming run of bad form when he matched Clarke with a four over par 75.

The Swindon player has fallen from 10th to 77th in the world rankings since he won the BMW PGA Championship in May last year.

Troubled by a spate of injuries, Howell and hasn't had a top ten finish since last November.