Thursday, 08 July 2010
Darren Clarke  (Getty Images)
Darren Clarke (Getty Images)

Northern Ireland's golfers continued to shine, with Darren Clarke leading The Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond after a six under par 65.

And there is an added incentive for the 40 year old - this is his last chance to grab a place in The Open Championship next week.

"I've been on Tour for a long time," he said when asked about the one St Andrews spot on offer.

"This is the first round and there's an awful long way to go, but of course I would love to qualify - and I would love to be standing on the 18th green here at Loch Lomond with Bob Diamond on Sunday night with The Barclays Scottish Open trophy in my hands."

The Ryder Cup hero will return in the morning a stroke ahead of England's Graeme Storm, Ireland's Damien McGrane and Italian Edoardo Molinari.

Clarke's compatriot Graeme McDowell, returning to European Tour life three weeks after his US Open Championship triumph, trails by six after what he described as a "mixed bag" and Masters Tournament champion Phil Mickelson is on the same level par mark as he began his bid for the top two finish which would take him to World Number One for the first time.

Clarke did not drop a shot all day, collecting four birdies in six holes from the third, making further birdies at the 13th and 14th and then saving par from a greenside bunker on the last during a torrential downpour.

"It was pretty tough. The wind was swirling it got very wet for the last couple of holes."

The round did not come totally out of blue. He was a runner-up in South Africa in January, was sixth in Portugal last month and on Tuesday won the star-studded JP McManus pro-am featuring Tiger Woods at Adare Manor in west Ireland.

Four years ago Clarke was the focus of emotional scenes at The K Club near Dublin when he helped Europe beat the Americans just a few weeks after his wife Heather lost her breast cancer battle.

He says he now has a "wonderful" girlfriend and adds: "Everything off the course I can't really ask for more.

"I'm just moving on with my life in a direction I can't wait to keep going. I've made a decision to move back home to Portrush and I'm doing that this summer."

McDowell warned people not to expect great things from him after so much celebrating, but closing with two birdies means a third successive win - he lifted The Celtic Manor Wales Open before heading to Pebble Beach - cannot be ruled out yet.

"There were a few good swings in there and a few champagne swings as well," he said.

The best example of the latter was an eight iron to the 190 yard fifth which came up 50 yards short only just over the hazard.

Mickelson was one under after 13, but double-bogeyed the next - and it could have been far worse. He was seconds away from having to go back to the tee after a search for his second shot.

Korea's Y E Yang, the third current Major Champion in the tournament, returned a 72, but 18 year old Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa shot 67 and is in a group tied for fifth which also includes 1995 Open Championship winner John Daly.

For a while Omega Mission Hills World Cup-winning brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari were tied at the top, but Francesco bogeyed the last two for a 68.



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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1MOLINARI, EdoardoITA18-12
2CLARKE, DarrenNIR18-9
3JACQUELIN, RaphaëlFRA18-8
T4MOLINARI, FrancescoITA18-7
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