Darren Clarke gave his hopes of qualifying for next week’s Open Championship at St Andrews a major boost when he claimed the top professional prize in the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am at Adare Manor.
The 41 year old Northern Irishman carded an excellent second round 68 at the County Limerick venue to finish with a three under par total of 141 which was good enough to claim top prize by one shot from England’s Luke Donald with Ernie Els and Shane Lowry sharing third on one under par 143.
At the present time, the five time Ryder Cup player is not in the field for the 150th Anniversary Open Championship at St Andrews but will try and claim the final remaining spot on offer in this week’s Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
The spot goes to any player who finishes in the top five at Loch Lomond and who is not currently already exempt and Clarke’s solid form around the tricky Adare Manor layout gave him hope that he might be good enough to be that man.
“Overall I played very well,” said Clarke whose best Open Championship finished came in 1997 at Royal Troon where he ended tied second with Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik, both players three shots adrift of eventual champion Justin Leonard.
“It was nice to go out this morning and shoot four under par and play very well in tough conditions so it was very pleasing all round.
“I’ve been working as hard as I possibly can of late but my putting hasn’t been good. But I clicked on something the other evening with my caddie after the first round in Paris and got my eyes more over the ball and changed my posture and started rolling the ball really good again so maybe that’s the difference.
“I’ve got to go Loch Lomond this week and try and play as well as I can and see if I can get myself into the Open that way. If not, I’ll just keep working and try and get myself ready for the 3 Irish Open at Killarney.”
Clarke also paid a glowing tribute to tournament host McManus whose fifth staging of the tournament saw record crowds of 40,000 people a day flock to Adare Manor.
“On behalf of all the professionals we owe a debt of thanks to JP and Noreen for everything they have done,” he said. “I think it is a huge mark of the respect that JP is held in the golfing world, never mind the racing world, that he has had the field of players he has had here this week. They are fantastic hosts and you couldn’t have asked for any more.”
That sentiment was backed up by European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady, who played in the two day event before joining Clarke and McManus on the 18th green for the prize giving ceremony.
“There is one word I would like to use here and it is privilege,” said O’Grady. “It is a privilege to be here at this event and I know I speak for all the players, the amateurs and the professionals that I represent. In addition we must give a big thank you to all the volunteers at Adare Manor who have presented this golf course in such super condition.
“An enormous number of charities will benefit because of the support of JP. The European Tour is so proud and so lucky to have men like him and his colleagues working to support what the Tour does and we are in his debt.”