By John Manley
Darren Clarke became the first Irishman to win a European Tour event on home ground since 1982, with a three-stroke victory in the Smurfit European Open Sunday at the K Club in County Kildare.
Clarke reported to the scorer’s tent with 273 (68-68-71-66) for 72 holes. John O’Leary, the 1982 Irish Open victor, was the last homegrown winner.
The trio of Padraig Harrington, Thomas Bjorn and Ian Woosnam shared second place at 276. Harrington’s cards read 70, 67, 69 and 70. This is his second straight runner-up finish in as many weeks. He shared that position with Clarke in last week’s Murphy’s Irish Open.
Colin Montgomerie, who won the Murphy’s, tied for 20th place at the K Club with a score of 281.
Clarke began Sunday’s final round three strokes behind the leader, Mik’l Lundberg. The Swede obliged Clarke by coming in eight over par and dropping into a tie for 34th place. Likewise, Sweden’s Jarmo Sandelin, one shot behind Lundberg in second place, shot five-over-par 77 to finish tied for 23rd.
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Clarke took advantage of his good fortune by reeling off three successive birdies beginning at the fourth hole. On the sixth, his approach shot veered left and struck a tree, off which it ricocheted onto the green. An 8-foot birdie putt resulted from that friendly bounce.
Clarke then grinned his way to the seventh tee, where he turned to his playing partner Constantino Rocca, and said, laughing, "I know, I know, I’m a lucky bastard."
The only bogey of his round followed at seven, but was written off with birdies at eight and nine. Clarke increased his lead with birdies at 11 and 16.
"To play as well as I did today to win in Ireland means more to me than a lot of things," Clarke said. "This was better than beating Tiger [Woods] at La Costa" in the 2000 Match Play Championship.
The victory is Clarke’s third of the year, but first on the European Tour in 2001. He earlier won in Japan and South Africa. The triumph boosted him to fourth place on the Volvo Order of Merit. U.S. Open victor Retief Goosen, who tied for sixth in the Smurfit, leads the pack, followed by Angel Cabrera and Harrington.
Eamonn Darcy, who tied for 45th place, and Damien McGrane, who shared 76th, were the only two other Irishmen to make the cut. Darcy shot 286 (75-69-72-70), while McGrane finished at 291 (73-72-72-74).
Early dismissals for failing to attain 145 or better after 36 holes were in order for Paul McGinley, 146 (72-74); David Higgins, 147 (74-73); Stephen Hamill, 148 (74-74); Des Smyth, 150 (75-75); Philip Walton, 150 (76-74); John Dwyer, 151 (78-73); Ronan Rafferty, 156 (83-73), and John Dignam, 157 (77-80).
There was an interesting sideshow to the final day’s proceedings with the offer from sponsors Appleby’s of a £100,000 diamond to any player who could be 14-under-par for the par fives for the tournament. On Sunday, only Thomas Bjorn and Harrington were in contention and, amazingly, Bjorn finished eagle, eagle to take the stone.
Euro Challenge Tour
Gary Murphy tied for 28th place in the Challenge Total Fina Elf at the Joyenval Golf Club in France. His 72-hole total of six-under 282 (71-69-71-71) left him 14 strokes behind Kenneth Ferrie, the medalist.
The cut was drawn at 140. Missing this number were Paddy Gribben, 145 (72-73), and Peter Lawrie, 149 (74-75).
Ladies British Masters
Aideen Rogers tied for 32nd place in the Kellogg’s All-Bran Ladies British Masters at Mottram Hall Golf Club in Cheshire, England. Rogers was tied for third place after firing an opening 69, but she fell down the leaderboard with 73 on Saturday. She closed with 77. Her final score of 219 was 10 strokes behind Paula Marti’s winning 219.