LOCH LOMOND // Darren Clarke was nearly flawless in miserable conditions yesterday at the Scottish Open, opening with a three-shot lead as he looks to add to what already has been a banner year for golf in Northern Ireland. On a dreary day, Clarke chipped in for birdie on the tough 16th and holed a series of 20-foot birdie putts on the front nine for a four-under 67. Perhaps more impressive than being at 10-under 132 going into the weekend is that Clarke has made only one bogey over his opening 36 holes. He has played cleanly in conditions that caused Phil Mickelson to take a quintuple-bogey on the 18th hole, and Ernie Els to make consecutive double bogeys as both big names missed the cut.
"It wasn't torrential, heavy rain. It was just torrential rain," Clarke said. "If you're from Ireland, there's a difference. Par was a good score on every hole." Among the early finishers, Clarke was three shots clear of Edoardo Molinari, and four ahead of Bradley Dredge and Peter Hedblom. Francesco Molinari had a double bogey on the opening hole and rallied for a 69 to finish at five-under 137. John Daly shot 73. He was eight shots behind.
Along with trying to win a tournament for the first time in two years, Clarke can earn a spot in the British Open next week at St Andrews by finishing highest among those who are not already eligible. Once the high-profile player from Northern Ireland, he has turned that reputation over to his proteges. Rory McIlroy won at Quail Hollow in May. A month later, Graeme McDowell gave Northern Ireland its first major since 1947 when he won the US Open.
"I've been delighted to see their success," Clark said. "It's fantastic for European golf and Ulster golf, Irish golf, to see the two of them playing as well as they have been." * AP