Darren Clarke, is no longer Northern Ireland’s top-ranked golfer, that distinction belongs to Rory McIlroy, the reigning US Open champion, and his predecessor Graeme McDowell, but in the second round of the 140th Open Championship he turned the clock back, carding a second successive 68 to claim a share of the early clubhouse lead on four under par 136.
The 42 year-old from Dungannon has a distinguished Open record, finishing tied second at Royal Troon in 1997 and in a share of third place at Lytham in 2001, and under cloudless skies at St George’s he replicated that sort of form with a fine round that would have been even better but for a brace of sixes on the fourth and 14th holes.
The former Ryder Cup player began brightly with a birdie on the 240-yard par-3 third, reclaimed the two shots he dropped on the fourth with an eagle on the 564-yard seventh and then reached the turn in 33 with a second birdie on the 453-yard par-4 eighth.
The second nine was hardly consistent but a symmetrical collection of three birdies, three pars and three bogeys added up to 35 and saw him share the early clubhouse lead with former US Open champion, Lucas Glover, one ahead of another early finisher, Chad Campbell.
“It was a little bit more adventurous than yesterday,” admitted Clarke. “There was some good and some not so good, but overall 68 is very pleasing.”
Clarke put his improved form down to a chat he had with his long-time mental coach, Dr Bob Rotella, on the eve of the Championship.
“I’ve been fortunate this week to be able to spend a bit of time with Dr Bob, an old friend, and we’ve worked on a few things and it’s certainly helped.
“I don’t get to spend as much time with him as I used to because I haven’t been playing that much in America. Many others have tried (to take his place) but I’ve broken them all,” he laughed.
“Dr Bob, his thought process is very simple, and that seems to suit me.”
Clarke went on to say winning The Open would mean the world to him.
“It would mean an awful lot but, obviously, this is only after two rounds. There’s an awful long way to go yet, but I believe the forecast for the weekend is very, very poor, which I quite look forward to.
“If that’s the case, the tournament is still wide open for an awful lot of players, including me.”
The bearded Glover shared third place after an opening 66 and he maintained his challenge with a solid level par 70 that included eight successive par figures from the 10th.