Crunch time for Clarke and McGinley in Open qualifying

Darren Clarke and Paul McGInley face the first match balls of their illustrious careers when they tee it up in International Final Qualifying for The Open at Sunningdale on Monday.

If they don’t make it, could we be talking about the beginning of the end for the once dynamic duo?

Clarke has sounded like a broken record since his wife’s tragic passing, insisting at every opportunity, “I’m not done yet, you know.”

The Ulsterman won twice in 2008 but didn’t get a Ryder Cup wildcard from Nick Faldo - much to the disappointment of players like Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington.

Set to turn 42 on August 14, Clarke insists that Faldo’s decision did not affect him. But he’s plainly finding it tough to live with the fact that he’s now one of yesterday’s men.

After failing to qualify for the US Open at Walton Heath last month, he was at a loss to explain exactly what’s wrong with his game and eventually pulled out of the following week’s Madrid Masters to take stock of things.

“It’s everything,” he said. “I just can’t strike them. I’m struggling and I don’t particularly feel like playing golf at the moment - but it is the US Open and I wanted to see if I could turn it around. I can’t put it together at all. I just can’t score … I’m taking as many as I can every time I play and I’m not particularly enjoying it, I have to say. It’s just a huge struggle at the moment. It’s been going on a while - I’m not trying any different things, just trying as hard as I can.”

When you’ve been there, done this and that and bought the tee shirt, it’s tough to stay motivated, especially when there are 50 European players ahead of you in the World Rankings.

Once a fixture in the world’s top 10, Clarke is now 163rd, making him the Ulster No 4 behind Rory McIlroy (10th), Graeme McDowell (44th) and Gareth Maybin (122nd) - or the Irish No 7 if you include Padraig Harrington (14th), Shane Lowry (103rd) and Peter Lawrie (149th).

As for McGinley, 88th amongst Europeans at 303rd in the world, you get the distinct impression that his ambitions are now limited to trying to stick around long enough as a competitive player to land the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy.

The troubled pair will be amongst the 96 players looking to secure one of 10 Open berths at Sunningdale Old and New and it goes without saying that making it to St Andrews would arrest their decline for a while.

Clarke, who is the highest-ranked of nine former Ryder Cup players in the field, is hoping to tee it up in his 19th Open at St Andrews, where he was tied seventh in 2000 and tied 15th in 2005.

McGinley will be hoping to earn his 17th Open appearance alongside the likes of Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, another player whose best days are now behind him.

The other former Ryder Cup players attempting to book a ticket to St Andrews are Thomas Bjorn, Niclas Fasth, Paul Broadhurst, Peter Baker, David Howell and Andrew Coltart.

Ireland will have five players in action with Irish Open champion Shane Lowry, US Open qualifier Gareth Maybin joined in the draw by the consistent Dubliner Peter Lawrie.