Clarke has one eye on Ryder Cup

 

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Darren Clarke shot a best of the day 65 in the third round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational yesterday to move within three shots of the shared lead held by Lee Westwood, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Clarke's round could have been even better had he not bogeyed the final hole. Nevertheless his card contained an impressive haul of seven birdies and a second dropped shot at the seventh. The Dungannon golfer has fond memories of the Firestone layout for he won this event at the same venue in 2003.

Clarke still holds slim hopes of making Nick Faldo's European Ryder Cup team next month. "If I do play well, if I do start playing well like I did today, I think I would be an addition to the team," said the five time Ryder Cup player after his round.

"And if I don't play well, I would not be. I would not expect a pick. I just want to play as well as I can and see where it takes me.
   
"I'm a long way out of it at the moment and I need to show excellent form," added Clarke, who lies 25th in the world points standings and 33rd in the European points table.
   
"I've got four tournaments left and I need to play well in those. If I do, he may consider me for a pick. If I don't, I'll be watching it on TV like everybody else."
   
The 39-year-old will compete in next week's US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills - after receiving a late invite - before returning to Europe for the Dutch Open and the Johnnie Walker Championship.
   
Although Clarke ended a five-year title drought on the European Tour by winning the Asian Open in April, he believes his game has suffered this season due to self-imposed pressure.
   
"All summer long, and probably the past three to four months, I've pushed and pushed and pushed and tried too hard and practised too hard and worked too hard," he said.
   
"I've wanted to play too well too much whereas now I'm just playing and enjoying it and seeing what that brings.
   
"And my putting seems to have improved," the 11 times European Tour winner added after taking just 26 putts during his 65. "It's really good to get back on to pure greens again, as good as these are, and start rolling in those four or five footers to save par.
   
"I haven't been making those this year and that puts me on the back foot straightaway, like anybody. I've gone back to my old method, wider stance and slightly higher hands."
   
Paul McGinley was next of the Irish quartet on one-under after a third round 72. Like Clarke, he had a poor finish with two bogeys over the closing holes.

Pádraig Harrington had a reversal of fortunes as he birdies the final two holes of his round to card a 68 to get back to two-over for the tournament. Graeme McDowell's 73 left the 28-year-old on four-over going into today's final round.

At the business end of proceedings, Westwood put himself in contention for his first PGA Tour title in a decade with a three-under-par 67 to join Mickelson and Singh on eight-under, who shot 68 and 69 respectively.

The Englishman's sole win in the States came at the 1998 Freeport-McDermott Classic.

Australia's Stuart Appleby (67) is a shot further back on seven-under, two ahead of South Africa's Retief Goosen (68).

Clarke's playing partner Sergio Garcia had started strongly to move to three under after 10 holes but his charge was checked by three bogeys on the back nine. A birdie at the 17th was the only ray of light as the Spaniard posted a 68 to move to one over.

Collated third-round scores & totals (USA unless stated, par 70):

202 Phil Mickelson 68 66 68, Vijay Singh (Fij) 67 66 69, Lee Westwood (Eng) 70 65 67

203 Stuart Appleby (Aus) 70 66 67

205 Retief Goosen (Rsa) 66 71 68

206 Rory Sabbatini (Rsa) 69 67 70, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa) 70 66 70, Chris DiMarco 68 70 68, Darren Clarke (NIrl) 70 71 65, D.J. Trahan 69 67 70

207 Hunter Mahan 71 66 70, Chad Campbell 68 71 68, Daniel Chopra (Swe) 67 74 66, Zach Johnson 67 68 72, Trevor Immelman (Rsa) 75 64 68, Ian Poulter (Eng) 70 68 69, Peter Lonard (Aus) 69 66 72

208 Justin Leonard 68 70 70, Sean O'Hair 68 67 73, Jim Furyk 68 69 71, Vaughn Taylor 72 67 69, Charles Howell III 68 70 70

209 Nick O'Hern (Aus) 70 68 71, Paul Casey (Eng) 70 71 68, Robert Karlsson (Swe) 71 67 71, J.B. Holmes 69 68 72, Justin Rose (Eng) 71 70 68, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 69 72 68, Tim Clark (Rsa) 67 71 71, Paul McGinley (Irl) 70 67 72

210 KJ Choi (Kor) 73 67 70, Stewart Cink 68 68 74

211 Robert Allenby (Aus) 71 70 70, Brendan Jones (Aus) 69 73 69, Scott Verplank 71 70 70, Stephen Ames (Can) 69 71 71, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 73 70 68

212 Steve Stricker 68 69 75, Steve Webster (Eng) 68 72 72, Ross Fisher (Eng) 69 73 70, Oliver Wilson (Eng) 71 69 72, Steve Lowery 75 67 70, Chez Reavie 68 74 70, Fredrik Jacobson (Swe) 71 71 70, Ernie Els (Rsa) 69 74 69, Rocco Mediate 68 73 71, Pádraig Harrington (Irl) 69 75 68

213 Hidemasa Hoshino (Jpn) 75 73 65, Anthony Kim 71 72 70, Steve Flesch 70 70 73, Woody Austin 71 70 72, Angel Cabrera (Arg) 72 73 68, Brandt Snedeker 68 76 69

214 Aaron Baddeley (Aus) 79 69 66, Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 70 71 73, Niclas Fasth (Swe) 71 71 72, Richard Finch (Eng) 69 75 70, David Toms 72 72 70

215 Rodney Pampling (Aus) 69 71 75, J J Henry 69 73 73, David Howell (Eng) 70 75 70, Scott Strange (Aus) 68 74 73, Richard Green (Aus) 72 73 70

216 Kenny Perry 74 69 73, James Kingston (Rsa) 73 72 71, Prayad Marksaeng (Tha) 70 73 73, Boo Weekley 72 73 71

217 Adam Scott (Aus) 69 76 72, Andres Romero (Arg) 73 71 73, Lucas Glover 70 75 72, Nick Dougherty (Eng) 72 76 69, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 71 67 79

218 Soren Hansen (Den) 75 73 70, Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 72 75 71

219 Colin Montgomerie (Sco) 72 71 76, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 72 79 68, Johnson Wagner 70 74 75

220 Craig Parry (Aus) 70 75 75

221 Brett Rumford (Aus) 75 70 76

231 Mark Brown 80 75 76