Shanghai surprise as Clarke putts well again

Darren Clarke showed Greg Norman he can still putt as he moved into contention for his first tournament victory since 2005 in the BMW Asian Open.

The Ulsterman, 39, fired a three under par 69 alongside the Great White Shark at Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club to lurk one shot behind China's Zhang Lian-wei and Holland's Robert-Jan Derksen on four-under par.

Darren Clarke

A lowly 134th on tour for putts per round this season, Clarke had just 29 putts yesterday with three late birdies moving him into the mix for the title in Shanghai.

Starting on the back nine, Clarke birdied the par-four 11th, bogeyed the par-five sixth but then finished strongly with three birdies as former world No 1 Norman hit a 73 to make the cut with ease on level par.

In a bid to improve his putting, Clarke has been working with an alignment specialist in recent weeks and early signs in his two rounds in Shanghai indicate he is seeing an improvement.

He said: "I always enjoy playing with Greg. He can still play. He played every bit as well as I did - maybe a bit better - he just didn't hole the putts.

"I haven't holed out all that well before but 29 putts yesterday and 29 today is a lot better than the 32 or 33 I have been averaging this year.

"I worked with a guy last week on my alignment and it feels a lot better so hopefully I can keep doing it and holing a lot more."

Clarke has endured mixed results on the European Tour circuit this season, finishing as high as third at the South African Airways Open but also as low as 112th at the Open de Andalucia.

But he believes he has found encouragement in the way things in his game have improved and hopes he can hit form this weekend.

Still trying to find normality after the death of his wife Heather with caner in 2006, he said: "It has been a difficult time as I have not been playing as well as I would have liked to have done.

"But I am very pleased with the things I am working on. I have been working on my posture in the gym and things feel they are starting to click together.

"They have been close for some time but not quite doing it so hopefully I can go out at the weekend and keep playing the way I know I can play." 

"Breaking 70 on a course as difficult as this is very enjoyable. The course was tough, the wind was blowing and there are a lot of stern holes out there.

"So I am very pleased to shoot 69. I haven't; been playing as badly as some of my scores would suggest this year. 

"The putter hasn't warmed up but it is starting to get a little bit better now and if I can continue that at the weekend I can keep moving up that leaderboard.

"I am working hard on all aspects of my game. I am working hard on the way I am swinging it, I am working hard in the gym and all the right places.

"I am working hard on the mental side and it is nice to see it starting to pay off. I want to play and BMW are such good sponsors for the European Tour and have been for some time. 

"It is just nice to come along and play events because they run a good tournament. I just want to play and compete. My boys have been off for mid-term so I'm here this week and on to Seville next week."

Peter Lawrie (74) and Rory McIlroy (73) both played the back nine under par to make the cut but are seven shots off the pace on two-over par.

Kilkenny's Gary Murphy ended his nightmare run of four missed cuts on the trot with a birdie at his 17th hole - the par three eighth - giving him a 73 that was enough to qualify on the three-over par limit.

Volvo China Open winner Damien McGrane missed the cut by four shots after his second successive 75, finishing on six-over par alongside Graeme McDowell.

Ranked sixth in the Ryder Cup race, the Ulsterman crashed to a 76 - coming home in five over par 41 after hitting just seven of 18 greens.