Good deeds are supposed to result in some good karma but Darren Clarke found himself trailing the recipient of his generosity by three strokes after the first round of the European Tour sanctioned Africa Open at East London.
First-round leader Brandon Pieters, who has played on the Sunshine Tour since 1994, credits former Ryder Cup player Clarke with a surge in form that has seen him win four times since 2009. No doubt Clarke won’t mind being called “a muppet” either.
The 34-year-old from Johannesburg says much of that success is due to advice he received from Clarke, who regularly plays in the local co-sanctioned events.
According to golf writer Richard Asher at Supersport.com:
“Ever since I met Darren and took the opportunity to ask him for help, my career has turned,” said Pieters following a seven under par 66. “It’s all thanks to him. He’s down to earth, very approachable and he’s been good for me.
“I don’t know if he’d be good for anybody else, because he’s a muppet! But he’s been good for me, ever since we first played together at the Joburg Open four years ago. After that round he said he wanted to sit down and have a chat. He told me I had immense talent but that I just didn’t know how to use it.
“Darren and Ewen Murray got me on the range that same day and helped me out. From there it just took off.”
Pieters is three shots clear of a group of six players that includes the Scottish Q-School graduate Elliot Saltman, who will go before the European Tour Players Committee later this month to defend himself against allegations of cheating during a Challenge Tour event in Russia last season. The Scot was disqualified for incorrectly marking his ball on the putting green on several occasions resulting in a nasty smear campaign on internet sites he has branded as “disgusting”.
Clarke, 42, opened his 2011 campaign with a four under par 69 that featured two eagle threes, two birdies and two bogeys.
“I was a bit rusty and hit some poor shots, but hit a few decent ones as well,” said the Ulsterman, who has not won on tour since the 2008 KLM Open in Holland. “My distance control on the wedges was poor, but that was to be expected after I had a bit of a break. So all in all, I’m pretty pleased with the start.”
Recently engaged to a former Miss Northern Ireland, Clarke started on the back nine and after a birdie at the 11th, he bogeyed the 13th and 14th before making an eagle on the par-five 15th. He also eagled the 493-yard third to get to three under and then birdied the next.
Pleased to be tied for 14th, Clarke said: “There were a few mistakes, but I putted quite nicely. I made two silly bogeys on 13 and 14, but apart from that it was all right. I holed a really nice putt on 18 (for par) after playing the perfect tee-shot and playing a bit like a dog after that.”
Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin, the only other Irish player in the field, finished the day tied for 38th after a two under 71 that contained four birdies and two bogeys.
Open champions Louis Oosthuizen shot a three under 70 but two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen had to settle for a two-over 75.