Rory McIlroy might be on the verge of replacing Tiger Woods as the youngest winner of the Grand Slam of Golf but Darren Clarke has other things on his mind.
As McIlroy pulled back a five stroke deficit on Keegan Bradley to share the first round lead with US PGA champion with a four under 67 and Charl Schwartzel collapsed late on to fire a 74, Clarke used humour to mask his frustrations following a 77 that left him propping up the four-man field.
Winning The Open might have been a lifelong dream for Clarke but while he’s said that there are no goals left for him to achieve, the reality is that he wants more success.
Like Padraig Harrington, the 43-year old Ulsterman has followed major success by making changes in his game. And the results have been similarly disappointing.
The world No 33 has played five official events since claiming the Claret Jug at Royal St George’s in July and missed the cut in three of them with his best result a share of 35th in the Omega European Masters in Switzerland six weeks ago.
Asked to describe his round, Clarke said: “It was crap. It was absolute crap. (Laughter). And I didn’t come all the way here to play that bad. So obviously disappointed. That’s not I didn’t came here.
“You know, as I told you the other day, I’ve just been struggling with my swing. It’s not quite what I want to do, and I’m struggling with my ball-striking at the moment.
“So if you mix that with putting equally as bad, that usually doesn’t add up to a good score. So, anyway. I’ll try to find the answer in the bottom of a glass this evening and see how that works.”
Giving up his jovial Irishman act for a moment, Clarke added: “I played poorly and I have not hit the ball any good, really, since The Open. Been trying to change of things, which is probably foolish, but I’m trying to get a little bit better.
“Obviously did well at The Open, but I saw a of things that I didn’t like and I’ve trying to fix them since and obviously it’s gone the other way.”
McIlroy, who is bidding to become the youngest winner in the 29-year history of the event, shook off the effects of jet lag to catch Bradley at the top of the leaderboard.
At 22 years and five months, he could become the youngest winner of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and overtake Woods, who was 22 years and ten months when he beat Lee Janzen, Vijay Singh and Mark O’Meara in a matchplay version in 1998.
Since finishing second to Michael Hoey in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on October 2, McIlroy has flown around the world from Scotland to Seoul to Shanghai, played in a seven cities in seven days event in China and arrived in Bermuda after a 20-hour flight from Hong Kong via Los Angeles.
He confessed that he needed a couple of sleeping pills, courtesy of manager Chubby Chandler, to get through the long haul flights from China to Bermuda.
Despite a bogey at the first, Bradley had raced to the turn in a six under par 30 – grabbing two eagles and three birdies to lead by four shots from McIlroy and Schwartzel and by eight from Clarke.
But he couldn’t keep it up and McIlroy, who struggled badly to adjust to grainy bermuda greens on the front nine, slowly clawed his way back.
The American came home in two over 37 with bogeys at the 14th and 16th as McIlroy covered the back nine in 33 with bogeys at the 11th and 13th outweighed by birdies at the 12th, 14th 15th and 17th.
McIlroy said: “I’m driving the ball great…. and to birdie four of the last seven holes was huge as I was five behind Keegan at one stage. Then again I gave myself so many chances on the front nine – I found the greens very difficult to read – so it was great to make up that ground and finish birdie-par when the weather turned wet and windy.”
Clarke and Schwarzel both triple bogeyed the 235-yard, cliffside 16th to effectively turn the event into a two horse race.
“The two six irons I hit to set-up the two eagles were two of the best shots I’ve hit all year,” said Bradley. “I slowed down on the back nine but it was still a great day.”
Schwartzel, who had two birdies and left four other birdie putts on the lip on the front nine, said: “I’m very disappointed. I played really well until I three putted the 12th then missed short putts on the next two greens.”