Clarke "putts" up a fight to make Masters cut

Clarke "putts" up a fight to make Masters cut

Darren Clarke finally found his putting touch at Augusta National but it took a trademark missile from the fairway to make the cut last night.

An eight iron to two feet at the 18th yielded just the third birdie of a grinding day for the 45-year old former Open champion, allowing him to sign for a second successive 74.

At four over par, he finished right on the four over par mark as 51 players survived into the weekend and Bubba Watson shot 68 for a seven under par total and a three stroke lead over Australian John Senden.

Clarke appeared confident he would make it as the flags above the giant scoreboard on the first fairway promised a torrid test for the afternoon starters.

Having struck the ball well on Thursday but putted terribly, he did things in reverse yesterday and showed that while it’s still not his forte, his chipping and putting is occasionally world class.

“It was difficult to get close to the holes and while the pins were a little softer, it takes an unbelievably good shot to get close to them,” said Clarke, who had just 27 putts and avoided a three-putt.

“I didn’t make anything yesterday so it was nice to make the putts when I had to today. I haven’t been sitting on me arse, you know. I’ve been working hard.”

If his putting pleased him, his approach to the last made him smile all the wider.

“I thought I needed birdie up the last to get in so it was pleasing to pull it off,” he said.  “That’s what I was trying to do so it’s nice when you hit a good one and it goes close.”

Clarke was very solid on the greens for the first time all week, making his share of crucial par saves between six and eight feet and showing great imagination with his recovery shots.

He made a six footer for birdie at the second, saved par from six feet at the fourth and produced a magical chip to save par at the fifth, using a hump left to the  front right pin to feed the ball back to the hole.

He bogeyed the par-three sixth after a poor tee shot came off the front of the green and then did well just to bogey the seventh after driving into the trees.

Forced to chip out sideways, he failed to clear the front bunker by inches with his third but holed a slippery six footer for a decent five.

He missed a birdie chance inside six feet at the eighth but he kept his head down on the back nine and while he had to hole a 10 footer just to save bogey at the 11th after a poor chip and then bogeyed the 13th after finding Rae’s Creek with his approach in swirling winds, he did not lose his patience.

He brilliantly holed a six footer for birdie after sliding off the back of the 15th in two. And after a dramatic, banana-shaped two-putt at the 16th, he bounced back from a bogey caused by losing position off the tee at the 17th with that impressive birdie at the last.

“Augusta is so tough that if you are not on the ball you are going to have six to eight footers,” Clarke said of his form with the blade. “My wides aren’t as wide and I am more in play and my short game has been pretty good these last few days. I missed it in a couple of wrong places where a great chip is to six or eight feet.

“Unfortunately that’s what happens when you get the wind is swirling and you get a couple of clubs wrong.

“I don’t know if they have sanded the greens or what but they are a lot firmer today than they were yesterday.

“All in all, 74 is a fair reflection of how I payed. To shoot 68 around here you have got to play well and think smart. 

“On the 11th I hit a five iron right  and I was dead. I had no shot because I had a tricky lie where someone had been before. Sometimes bogey is a good bogey.”

Having lost more than three and a half stones in weight and reduced his waist measurement to “32 or 33 inches”, Clarke is only now getting used to his new swing tempo.

“It’s been a  difficult thing because losing weight has affected my timing a little,” he said. “But it’s coming back.”