Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Clarke and McDowell Lead Northern Irish Charge

Clarke and McDowell Lead Northern Irish Charge
The Northern Irish assault on the Open Championship was expected to come from Rory McIlroy.
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While that might yet prove to be the case, he was outshone yesterday by Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, two of McIlroy’s compatriots and friends.
Both posted opening rounds of 68 at Royal St George’s yesterday to feature in the top ten at the end of the day.
Although he is a major winner, McDowell’s finish caused most surprise since it had initially looked as though he was trying his best to rule himself out of contention on the first day. He opened with a double bogey and incurred two more bogeys later, although five birdies offset the damage.
“I just got off to a horrible start,” the 2010 US Open champions said afterwards. “Three days’ perfect preparation, nice warm-up this morning and then I walk onto the first tee and just put one of the worst swings of the week on it.”
The hole didn’t get any better for him and he ended up taking six strokes. “I walked to the second tee wondering what the hell just happened,” he said. “But I managed to hang in there and made a great putt on the second, which really settled me down. After that it was about hanging tough.”
McDowell hit 12 greens and took 26 putts and managed to repair the damage – and more – with four birdies in his final nine holes. “The old cliche is that you can’t win it today, you can only lose it,” he said. “And I tried to lose it.”
He added: “It’s great to have the three Northern Irish boys in contention with 54 holes to go. The way we were going after the first three or four holes there might have been a few medicinal cold beers needed.”
Clarke was another popular success story yesterday. Like McDowell, he did not get off to the best of starts. In fact, all three Northern Irishmen stumbled at the first hole, with Clarke following McIlroy in making a bogey at ‘The Kitchen’. But Clarke steadied himself and collected three birdies in the back nine.
Playing in the best of the conditions, the 42-year-old Clarke was back to his consistent best. “Most of the time I was in control,” he said later. “It’s a real tough, stern test. You’ve got to stay patient this week, which has not always been one of my strong points. But that’s what the Open and links golf is all about.”
Patience, a characteristic Clarke acknowledges isn’t his forte, was his watchword. His catch-up with renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella on Wednesday did him good. “He knows me inside out and we’ve known each other a very long time,” said Clarke. “I was lucky.”
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