Darren Clarke still working as he goes in search of a match for his 2011 Claret Jug
Struggling Ulsterman hoping Muirfield Open will get the best out of him again
Darren Clarke: ‘Muirfield is as fair as they come and it’s in great condition’. Photograph: Getty Images.
The sound on the range, where steel heads rhythmically meet firm turf, is an acoustical arrangement for golfing purists.
It’s what golf is all about, getting back to its roots. A repetitious beat. Thud! Thud! Thud! Maybe, just maybe, it is a return to the game’s origins that will finally, however belatedly, kick-start Darren Clarke’s season.
He has, of course, got history in this championship.
Two years ago, Clarke arrived at Royal St George’s – the famed links at Sandwich – with the space between his ears in turmoil.
His trusty swing had gone AWOL What happened? He had a pre-championship talk with Dr Bob Rotella and was at peace with himself.
He won, claiming the greatest triumph of his career. His only Major; something to put the icing on the cake of an honour-laden career!
Clarke, though, wants more.
He is searching, working hard on his game and waiting for the day when all that graft pays off when it matters most: in competition.
So far, this season has been one of promise and frustration. He missed the Masters after sustaining a hamstring injury playing tennis with his teenaged children and, since returning, the different segments have yet to click into place.
In fact, Clarke hasn’t made a cut since the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May.
Since then, he has failed to survive into the weekend, when business is decided and the cheques dispensed.
One by one, they have come and gone. The Scandinavian Masters. The US Open. The Irish Open. The Scottish Open. Close, but no cigar on each and every occasion.
“I played nicely last week (at the Scottish Open). I almost got myself into contention halfway through the second round, then I got a couple of bad bounces, trickled into a bunker on the downslope, without actually hitting bad shots.
“It was one of those things. But I actually played not too bad last week so I’m looking forward to this week.”
Of all the championships, this is the one that gets Clarke’s juices flowing. “The Open is the biggest and best tournament in the world . . . it’s always a fantastic event.”
So, can Muirfield do for Clarke what Sandwich did?
Missed the cut
Back in 1992, as a fledgling professional he missed the cut. In 2002, he put together rounds of 72, 67, 77 and 79 to finish in tied-37th, some seven shots outside of a play-off that was won by Ernie Els.
One poor round, that 77 in the Saturday squall, did for him.
“Muirfield is as fair as they come and it’s in great condition. I’ve been here twice in the past month doing a couple of days R&A patrons days and I played (Sunday) as well, so its getting very firm and fast and it’s only going to get firmer and faster, according to the forecast. Muirfield has always been about keeping it on the fairways, that’s what Muirfield is. It is about hitting six-irons 250 yards downwind and trying to put it in the right place all the time.
“ It’s different, but it’s great.”
He added: “I think if you take a look at the winners here, they’re all great shot makers and in control of their ball flight. (Nick) Faldo and all those guys worked the ball around the golf course ... (Tom) Watson, all wonderful ball strikers and were able to control the trajectory and shape of things. This golf course, that’s why it’s as good as it is and produces such fantastic winners.”
The pressure of craving a Claret Jug to hold has dissipated. He has done it, the memory of 2011 so fresh his mantra of working-working-working on his game will eventually come good.
What keeps him going? “The Love/Hate of the game. “There’s more love, but it’s hiding somewhere,” said Clarke.