LOCH LOMOND // Darren Clarke is still looking good to claim the last-but-one place in the British Open at St Andrews next week. But whether he can do it by capturing the Scottish Open remains to be seen. The Ulsterman, 41, who this week has suddenly ignited a bid for a sixth Ryder Cup appearance in October, saw a four-stroke lead turn into a one-stroke deficit in yesterday's third round.
Clarke now goes into the closing 18 holes of the £3 million (Dh16.8m) event facing not one, but both the Molinari brothers. Edoardo, the older but less experienced of the two World Cup holders, is the one who leads after four birdies in the last five holes gave him a scintillating eight-under-par 63, only one off Retief Goosen's course record. The lowest round of the 29-year-old Italian's European Tour career took him to 15 under par. Clarke added a second successive 67 to his opening 65 to be 14 under as the pair left the best of the rest trailing well behind.
Francesco Molinari, who has an opportunity to move from ninth to fifth in the Ryder Cup race, shares third with the Swede Peter Hedblom, but they are seven shots behind Francesco's brother after rounds of 68 and 69, respectively. One Open spot is up for grabs at the end of the tournament. Both Molinaris are already in the championship, but Hedblom is not and it goes to the leading non-exempt player in the top five tomorrow night.
Clarke is in 38th place on the overall Ryder Cup standings, but with a £500,000 first prize could climb all the way to 12th. Not that he is aware of that. "I have no idea where I am, but I know this is a good week to be playing well," he said. "The Ryder Cup is not something I have been thinking an awful lot about" * PA