Darren Clarke believes he is close to getting back into the winner’s circle after a second round 66 sent him hurtling up the leaderboard in the weather-delayed Avantha Masters in New Delhi.
The Ulsterman birdied five of his last seven holes in a nine-birdie round to leap into a share of 12th place with Irish Open champion Shane Lowry, who also shot a six under par 66 at the DLF Golf and Country Club.
Veteran Barry Lane, 49, shot a 67 to top the clubhouse leaderboard on 10 under par with Challenge Tour graduate John Parry and Chinese Taipei’s Chan Yih-shin stranded on the same mark with one hole of their second rounds after a late afternoon hailstorm forced a suspension in play.
But that didn’t worry Clarke, who is just three strokes off the pace on seven-under par after a blistering finish to his second round.
Starting on the back nine, the 41-year old Ulsterman birdied the par three 11th but found himself back at level par for the tournament and looked in danger of missing the cut when he carded three bogeys and a birdie in his next five holes before catching fire.
“I started off a bit out of sorts – I couldn’t quite figure the swing out and then it clicked into place about the 14th and I hit some really nice shits after that,” said Clarke, who birdied the 17th and 18th to get to two under and then birdied the third, fourth, fifth, eighth and ninth in a stunning homeward nine of five under par 31. “I was seven under par for the last 11 holes and I had chances everywhere.
Capped five times in the Ryder Cup, Clarke finished in style when he cracked a 296 yard three wood into the ninth green to set up a facile closing birdied.
“That was kind of stuff that I was producing in the last 11 holes. I played lovely, put it in close on a number of occasions and I have managed to hole a few putts which has been what has been missing recently.
“I have been working hard this week with my caddie Mike to try and keep my head still and finish my stroke and it has been good so far.”
After a disappointing 71 on day one, Clarke is now in with a chance of clinching his first win since the 2008 KLM Dutch Open and taking a giant towards regaining his place in the world’s top 50.
“Obviously that is the best thing,” he said, “to make a decent move up the leaderboard after yesterday. I needed to do something after yesterday and I managed to do it.”
Looking happier on the course than he has in some time, Clarke added: “Well I am playing great this year. I am actually hitting the ball really well and had a good result in Joburg (tied 2nd) which was good for the confidence.
“Abu Dhabi was disappointing (tied 56th) and then I finished bogey-bogey on Sunday in Dubai (tied 27th), which was very disappointing because I would have finished 13th or something had I managed to make two pars.
“So I have been playing nicely and if I can knock a few putts in and keep on doing what I am doing then I will close.”
Currently ranked 102nd in the world, Clarke was frustrated by those recent results because he feels he is close to getting back to his best.
He said: “Exactly. I mean, anyone is disappointed to finish bogey-bogey in Dubai because of the kind of holes they are, but, yes, I am definitely getting back to where I want it to be.
“Just look at the two rounds here: I was a bit disappointed with one under yesterday and then the fact that I go out today and it is not quite right but I manage to turn it around is pretty good.”
While Clarke knows his days as a top player are coming to an end, Lane is relying on his status as one of the top 40 career money earners to retain his playing privileges - he’s 34th with career earnings of €6.73m - before he becomes eligible for the senior tour on June 21.
Now he has a chance to beat Des Smyth’s record and become the oldest winner in the history of the European Tour.
Lowry, meanwhile, continues to grow in confidence and it showed as the world No 87 kept a bogey off his card to move into contention for his first victory as a professional.
Gareth Maybin shot a 69 to get to five under par but Gary Murphy looks destined to miss the cut for the fourth time in five starts.
Entitled to limited starts after being forced to come through the Qualifying School last season to retain his card, the Kilkenny man was three over for the day and five over for the tournament with just three holes of his round to play on Saturday.
The cut was projected to fall at one under par with India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, Padraig Harrington’s likely first round rival in next week’s Accenture Match Play Championship, one of the high profile players to miss out.
World No 59 Singh was the highest ranked player in the field which means that Offaly ace Lowry is now the top player remaining in action on the sub continent.