Darren Clarke’s hopes of hauling himself back into the world’s elite will have to wait another week at least following his bitterly disappointing final round performance in the Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain.
The 42-year old Dungannon man birdied two of his first three holes to move into the lead but just when he was required to show some steel, he self-destructed over the last 10 holes en route to 73 and joint eighth place behind Paul Casey.
The key moment came at the par-five ninth, where his fine approach ran through the green into a sandy, run off area. Clarke said later that he was aiming to chip in for eagle but if the spirit was willing, the flesh had other ideas. After fluffing two chips in a row, he hit his fifth shot 10 feet past and did well to escape with a bogey six.
It was game over from that point on and while Clarke battled on and continues to tilt at windmills, one wonders if Clarke will ever regain the hunger of old as his life moves into a happy place off the course. The flashes of brilliance are still there but he hasn’t won a tour event since August 2008 and when he had a chance to lift last year’s Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond he dropped four shots in the first five holes of the final round and lost out to the up and coming Italian Edoardo Molinari.
“It was one of those days when everything was very slightly off,” said Clarke, who missed a short par putt at the par-five 13th and then ran up a double bogey six at the last. “What happened at 18 summed it all up - I leaked the drive, it went into the water, then my approach shot bounced off a sprinkler head and went into a bunker.”
As for his disaster at the ninth, he blamed the turf and maybe he had a point.
“That little patch at the back of that green was not the same as the rest of the turf, it’s softer,” he explained. “The easier option was to putt it or chip and run it but I was thinking of holing it and just got two completely wrong.”
Where Clarke goes from here is anyone’s guess. In the past he was talked about as a contender for majors but nowadays his major appearances are hailed as mini victories in their own right.
Putting has been his cross for years and while he showed some improvement in that department in Bahrain following a tip from Jose Maria Olazabal, one wonders who long he will stick with his new method before trying something new.
Casey’s victory gave credence to Padraig Harrington’s pre-season prediction that the stellar performances of Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy in 2010 would bring out the best in the forgotten young guns in 2011.
As for Harrington, he spent the weekend in practice mode as he battled in vain to keep his multiple swing thoughts out of his head.
After finishing 58th on five under following a final round that featured seven birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey, he confessed: “I got caught up between swing thoughts. I hit lots of nice shots but also some poor shots and it was a bit frustrating at times.
“The early rounds in any year always show up a few weaknesses and I’ve a bit of work to do on my wedge play and chipping and things like that before going to Pebble Beach next week. But, overall, I feel good about my game.”
Peter Lawrie carded a level par 72 to finish an inconsistent week a further shot behind on four under.