Darren Clarke ended 22 months of flying under the radar with a morale-boosting victory in the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am that he hopes might open the doors to St Andrews and an unlikely late run for Ryder Cup glory.
Patience finally paid off for the 41-year old Ulsterman, who was forced to step off an early flight to Loch Lomond for the Barclays Scottish Open when he posted a sensational, four under par 68 and win by a shot from Luke Donald on three under par.
It was his first victory of any sort since he claimed the KLM Open in August 2008 and he’s hoping he now push on and earn a last gasp place in the Open Championship by finishing as the leading non-exempt player inside the top-five at Loch Lomond this week.
“When you’re working as hard as I have been and getting nothing out of it, it’s very difficult to keep on doing the same things,” Clarke said. “What keeps me going? I do it because of my desire to succeed, to prove to myself that I can still compete and play. I’ve just go to keep on doing what I’m doing and hopefully I’ll get back to where I should be.”
The highlight of his round was an eagle three at the par-five seventh - a hole he reduced to a drive, a seven iron and a 20 foot putt.
Hoping it won’t be a rare bird this summer, he said: “I’ve been working hard but putting poorly but something clicked after a I came off the greens in Paris. I changed a little bit of my set-up and all of a sudden I’m rolling the ball better.
“That changes everything, changes my outlook to the game knowing that I can hole some putts and make some birdies.
“You’re just fed up when it’s not happening. It’s frustrating. It got VERY, VERY frustrating. There is a little bit of ‘why do I bother any longer’, of course there is.”
Whatever happens in Scotland, Clarke’s hopeful that he’s finally about to get rewarded for his hard work though he admits that winning a sixth Ryder Cup cap at Celtic Manor in October is now a long shot.
“The Ryder Cup is a big ask for me right now,” said the world No. 179, who is a lowly 38th in the European Points List. “I’m nowhere in the reckoning and that’s due to my poor play this year and that’s fine. I’ll try. If I play at Loch Lomond this week like I played here, maybe I’ll get to the Open and I’d love to make it because I love St Andrews.
“Vice captain? No although I’d love to do it at some stage. The Ryder Cup is so important to Europe and if there’s anyway I could help, I’d love to do it.
“Captain? Well, you have to be asked, I’d be honoured but at present there’s no question of it.”
He was just happy to enjoy a good day at the office for a change, explaining: “I shot four under on a pretty tough day. I’ve seen you boys and you’re asking what’s going on and I say, well, I’m working hard and doing all the right things and nothing is quite happening.
“So it’s nice to actually come and play okay. I love the atmosphere of the whole thing. The field J.P. has managed to put together is down to the respect that everybody has for him and the money he raises for charity is brilliant.”
Ireland has six players in The Open at St Andrews and if he fails to make it, Clarke sees no reason why Graeme McDowell or Rory McIlroy can’t contend for the Claret Jug.
“I watched every shot of Graeme winning the US Open and thought his attitude was magnificent,” Clarke said. “He was in full control of his emotions, he hit some great shots on that last day. I wasn’t surprised that he was able to do it.
“The Open? Obviously, G-Mac is a confidence player, he will be moving forward, Lee (Westwood) has been knocking at the door for some time now, Tiger’s record at St Andrews speaks for itself and then you’ve got Rory, he’s going to want to put himself in the same position as well.”
JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am 2010
141 – D Clarke 73, 68
142 – L Donald (Eng) 73, 69
143 – E Els (SA) 73, 70 S Lowry 72, 71
144 – G McDowell 75, 69 D Howell (Eng) 74, 70 P Hanson (Swe) 71, 73 I Poulter (Eng) 75, 69
145 – H Slocum (USA) 76, 69 J Furyk (USA) 71, 74 D McGrane 73, 72 R Green (Aus) 75, 70
146 – S Hansen (Den), 72, 74 M Kaymer (Ger) 74, 72 J Cook (USA) 71, 75 D Johnson (USA) 74, 72 P Casey (Eng) 76, 70 R Allenby (Aus) 73, 73 R Sabbatini (SA) 71, 75
147 – C Villegas (Col) 73, 74 J Daly (USA) 76, 71 R McIlroy 72, 75 G Maybin 74, 73
148 – T Woods (USA) 79, 69 P Harrington 76, 72 S Webster (Eng) 73, 75 G Fernandez-Castano (Sp) 75, 73 JM Olazabal (Sp) 76, 72 T Lehman (USA) 74, 74
149 – S Marino (USA) 75, 74
150 – J Edfors (Swe) 72, 78 M Campbell (NZ) 78, 72 A Noren (Swe) 73, 77 J Van de Velde (Fr) 74, 76 R Finch (Eng) 74, 76
151 – T Bjorn (Den) 77, 74 J Rose (Eng) 80,71 N Watney (USA) 74, 77 P McGinley 78, 73
152 – B Curtis (USA) 81, 71 M O’Meara (USA) 76, 76 M Manassero (It)
153 – F Funk (USA) 79, 74 H Stenson (Swe) 72, 81
154 – L Glover (USA) 73, 81 JB Holmes (USA) 77, 77 G Murphy 76, 78 P Lawrie 76, 78 D Higgins 76, 78 A Scott (Aus) 77, 77
156 – R Rock (Eng) 78, 78
Retd – S Lyle (Scot)
NR – A Quiros (Sp), T Immelman (SA)
255 (33- under-par) – Lourdes Invalid Trust I: Ian Poulter with Bernard Hackett (11), Padraig Hackett (13), Ray Hackett (15).
258 (30-under-par) - St Joseph’s Foundation: Heath Slocum with Evan Talty (8), Eric Murrihy (13), Michael Talty (14); Gerry McManus: Ernie Els with Gerry McManus (18), Mark McManus (18), Cormac McManus (15); Lourdes Invalid Trust II: John Cook with Gary Neville (13), Neal Whelan (13), Cian Foley (15).