Clarke smiles through the pain


Golf US Masters: Philip Reid finds Darren Clarke philosophical and Padraig Harrington unrepentant despite disappointing ends to the Masters

In the old days, Darren Clarke would probably have been inclined to race by; yesterday, we saw the new Darren Clarke. Smiles and grins on the outside, even though his heart must have been aching on the inside.

After grabbing the lead on the first day, and stubbornly staying in contention in the second round, Clarke's quest for the title evaporated on Saturday and, in many ways, his final round was a salvage operation to ensure he didn't drop off the face of the earth. In the end, he closed with a 74 for six-over-par 294.

But the damage had been done on Saturday, and he knew it. "I left the house yesterday (Saturday) and left my golf swing there. I played very poorly all day, and didn't do anything very well. You don't get away with playing like that on this course.

"Obviously, I am very disappointed, but there are a lot of positives too. My routine is good. Even when things weren't going well, I stuck to it. However, my swing is not as good as I thought it was, so I have some work to do on that."

Clarke's roller-coaster ride in the Masters had effectively come to a shuddering halt in that third round, on the par-five 13th, a vicious sting at the tail-end of Amen Corner. Clarke, whose first round 66 gave him the lead, and who was second (four shots behind Mike Weir) at the halfway stage, was battling with his game in the third round but staying on the fringe of contention until he played the 13th, where he took a quadruple bogey nine.

His tee-shot was pushed into the trees on the right and, after pitching back out on to the fairway, his third finished in Rae's Creek, which meanders its way around the green. After taking a penalty drop, his pitch failed to find the green and he then hit his next chip to the back of the green and three-putted.

"If you make mistakes around here, you can't get out of them. I played really nicely that first day but, after that, I didn't and didn't get one bounce in my favour . . . but that's Augusta. That's what happens. If the bounce goes the wrong way, you pay the penalty. The 13th in the third round was typical of that, when the ball went up the wrong kind of slope and just trickled in.

"But you know you are going to get some funny bounces and you just have to accept them. Nothing happened at all, everything went the other way, but everything is coming along the way I want it to. I just hoped I'd do a little bit better," said Clarke, who remains on in America to play in Harbour Town this week.

On Saturday, when Padraig Harrington emerged from the dark green recorder's tent on the back of the 18th green, the look of resignation told its own story. He'd just spent a few minutes perched in front of a computer screen but, no matter which way he juggled the numbers, they kept coming up wrong.

The Dubliner had missed the cut by one stroke, the first cut he had failed to survive in a major since the US PGA in 2001 and only the second missed cut in his last 14 major championships.

"I'm disappointed, of course, but that's the game. Maybe I was more tired from the Players (where he finished second, two weeks ago) than I thought," he said.

"But I'm not doing too much wrong with my game. I was four over after the first six holes and only two over for the next 30, and that's without holing anything," insisted Harrington, who now takes a three-week break before resuming tournament play at the Benson and Hedges at the Belfry next month.

Having gone 11 months since his previous missed cut - at the Volvo PGA last May - Harrington has now missed the cut in back-to-back tournaments (having failed to survive the weekend at the BellSouth in Atlanta) for the first time in his career. However, he won't change his itinerary.

"I'll just keep it the way it is, and spend the time off working on my game."

Harrington didn't have any regrets either about his decision to change drivers before his first round. "I used it because it was easier to draw - it turned out it was too easy to draw. Of course it had an influence on things," admitted Harrington, who then changed back to his regular driver for the second round, "but I used it with the best of intentions."