Contrasting fortunes continue for Clarke and McIlroy

Darren Clarke has had a torrid time since he won the Open in 2011. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieRory McIlroy’s form might be on the rise but things can’t get much worse for former Open winner Darren Clarke.

The 44-year old Dungannon man yesterday pulled out of the Masters citing a hamstring tear he picked playing tennis with his children in the Bahamas two weeks ago - just the latest in a long line of mishaps that have befallen him since he achieved his lifetime dream by lifting the Claret Jug at Royal St George’s last than two years ago.

“I was playing tennis with the kids about two weeks ago and that is when I picked up the tear on my hamstring,” Clarke said yesterday. “It was just one of those freak injuries which is really disappointing.

“I have done absolutely everything to be at Augusta; physio, ultrasound and icing, but I cannot physically turn through shots and there is no point in going to the Masters if you are not one hundred per cent fit.

“Understandably, I am absolutely gutted not to be there but I hope to be fit enough to be back in action in the Ballantine’s Championship on the European Tour in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Clarke was suffering from a groin injury when he made his Masters return after a four-year absence last year. And it’s little wonder he decided to opt out yesterday give how he struggled to rounds of 73 and 81 to miss the cut by five strokes 12 months ago.

Ranked 30th in the world when he won The Open, he has had just one top 10 finish since then, missed 15 of 27 cuts in full field strokeplay events, lost twice in the first round of the Accenture Match Play and fallen to 223rd in the world.

Not only that, he also suffered a major disappointment when the majority of the European Tour players decided they wanted Paul McGinley as Ryder Cup captain for 2014.

McIlroy, on the other hand, has won six official events including two majors in the same time span to go to world No 1 before being overtaken by Tiger Woods last month.

He had a torrid start to the new season since moving from Titleist to Nike by following a missed cut in Abu Dhabi with a first round loss to Shane Lowry in the Accenture Match Play before fleeing the course in a combination of frustration and wisdom tooth pain at the Honda Classic.

But despite some occasional waywardness off the tee in Texas, all is now well in McIlroy’s world again following his brilliant, closing 66 to secure second place behind Scot Martin Laird in the Valero Texas Open on Sunday.

“I couldn’t have done much more,” said a relaxed McIlroy after he registered at Augusta National late yesterday morning. “It was really good to play competitively with card and pencil in hand.

“I was very pleased with the way I played and that I managed to cut out most of the silly mental errors I had made in Houston and in the first few rounds in San Antonio.”

Coach Michael Bannon was especially buoyant as he hopped onto the back of the buggy that ferried McIlroy to the range.

“The press is very quiet this morning,” Bannon teased as reporters simply greeted McIlroy, listened to his quick summary of his performance in San Antonio and let him go about his business. “Rory must have done pretty well last week.”