Three-putts kill Clarke charge in Estoril

From Brian Keogh in Estoril

Darren Clarke’s mood wasn’t quite as black as his outfit or the well-thumbed leather notebook where he’s been jotting down his golfing secrets for the past 15 years.

But after turning a possible course record into a less than satisfying three-under par 68, it was just as well there wasn’t a cat sunning itself near the scorer’s hut at the Estoril Portuguese Open.

Brimming with confidence after a Wednesday afternoon putting lesson, the Ulsterman had just 12 putts in a front nine 29 he completed with a 30-foot eagle putt to lead the tournament on six-under par.

But he then undid most of his good work with a trio of three-putts on the way home to finish the day five shots behind defending champion Pablo Martin and Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, who took advantage of perfect conditions to fire eight-under par 63s for a one-stroke lead over the field over Spaniards Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño and Jose Manuel Lara. and the Swede Michael Jonzon.

“Giving shots away with three putts is very irritating,” Clarke said, who had four birdies and an eagle before thee-putt bogeys at his 11th and 13th holes and a three-putt par five at his last. “I am wasting shots. Any momentum I have been getting I have been giving it back.”

Early leader Fernandez-Castaño summed up Clarke’s plight perfectly after firing eight birdies in a course record-equalling 64 that featured just 27 putts before Martin set the new mark with a bogey-free effort that was matched by Bourdy late in the day.

“I holed some good three, four and five footers and your have to be doing that throughout the round if you want to score like that,” the Spaniard said.

Boosted by an eagle three at the 16th, Damien McGrane headed the six-man Irish challenge on four-under par after a 67.

But the day ended tragically for 18-year-old Rory McIlroy, who had an eagle two at the driveable 11th thanks to a 348-yard three-wood to two feet before finishing with a bizarre double bogey six for a two-under par 69.

Playing in fading light at the back of the field, McIlroy was four-under par playing the last but drove tight against the out-of-bounds fence, double hit his attempted escape and missed a nine-footer for a bogey.

That left him tied for 38th place alongside Paul McGinley, who hit 17 greens in regulation but failed to find any kind of touch on the greens for the umpteenth time this season.

“I hit 17 greens again but I am not holing enough putts,” McGinley said. “The greens are no excuse. It is just frustrating to hit it so well from tee to green and only shoot two under.”{

McGrane birdied the 15th and then eagled the par-five 16th with a five-wood to 15 feet to set up his 67 but like Clarke, he felt he could have got more out of his round.

“I played nicely all day but my putting was hot and cold,” he said. “The greens are not good, slow and bumpy, but you try to give yourself as many chances as possible and make a few. I hit it well from tee to green and hopefully I can hole a few more putts tomorrow.”

Gary Murphy finished with a one-under par 71, his round marred by a double bogey six at the 17th while Peter Lawrie almost relieved to shoot a one-over par 72.

“I never had the ball under any control all day,” Lawrie said. “It was a real grind just to shoot 72.”