Clarke plays 50th major

Darren Clarke will clock up a major milestone on Friday when he celebrates his 41st birthday.

What he didn’t know yesterday is that this week’s US PGA Championship will be his 50th appearance in a major.

Tied for second behind Justin Leonard at Troon in 1997, he is still waiting for another chance to win a “big one” and time would appear to be running out for the Ulsterman, who needed an invitation to participate in what will be his 11th US PGA.

A lot has happened since he teed it up in his first major, the 1991 Open at Royal Birkdale but Clarke can remember it as if it were yesterday.

“Fifth majors? What! I didn’t know that,” he said. “Really. Well that is a surprise. I have been playing out here for a long time.

“I remember my first one. Royal Birkdale 1991. I shot 79 the first round and 67 the second.”

He finished tied for 63rd and he is still waiting for an improvement on his share of ninth place behind Tiger Woods in the 2000 US PGA at Valhalla.

If history is any indicator, it is still not too late for the Dungannon man to hoist his major.

Now fewer than 22 players have won majors in their forties. Mark O’Meara won two in 1998, when he was 41. Vijay Singh was also 41 when he won the US PGA in 2004.

Clarke certainly hasn’t lost his desire to win a major and he knows that if he can find a magic wand to get the ball in the hole on the greens, his ball-striking is good enough to take on all comers.

“It’s always been one of my goals and I think my game has always been good enough to win one,” he said. “As yet, I haven’t been able to do it but I’ll keep going. My desire is still the same as ever, if not greater and that’s why I keep working my bollocks off.

“As I’ve said to you for ages, my golf game is a lot better than my scores would suggest, which you can obviously see, which I’m just not doing it. I’ve got to knock in a few of those putts instead of lipping out.”

Teaming up with Lee Westwood, he lighted the wallets of young guns Rory Mcllroy and Graeme McDowell in a practice round this week, earning enough to pay “for a nice dinner.”

He still feels some pain after Nick Faldo denied him a wildcard for last year's Ryder Cup despite his brace of European Tour wins. But his confidence is on the rise following his share of 22nd in last week’s Bridgestone Invitational and if the putter works, he sees no reason why this can’t be his week.

“One of these weeks it’s going to click again,” he said. “I don’t know when but one of these weeks it is.”

Still, the hunt for a magical putter goes on and after trying out two models yesterday, he had a lesson from his manager Chubby Chandler.

As for the challenge ahead, he knows it’s going to be tough on the longest course in the history of the majors. He missed the cut here in 2002.

“It is long and there is a couple of really tough holes like the 12th,” he said of the 518-yard par four. “The green at 12 is not designed to be hit by a 3-iron or 4-iron but it’s a good test. There is a good few of the par 4s bordering on 500 yards but that’s just the way it is.

“It’s tough but it’s very fair and I have no problems with it whatsoever. And there also is not going to be much run as they had so much rain in this area last week. So it’s going to be tough.

“I am ready to play and after having played really nice at Firestone last week, I am looking forward to much the same this week. I had a good practice round Tuesday and I’m really looking forward to getting going.”