By John Manley
There can’t be anybody out there who, having witnessed Jean Van de Velde’s collapse in the British Open, didn’t feel at least somewhat sorry for the Frenchman, who brought a five stroke lead into the final round, only to have it vanish. It’s only normal to wonder what it must be like to live through a debacle like that. If Darren Clarke was wondering, he sure isn’t now.
Clarke brought misery upon himself by blowing a six-stroke lead in the final round of the Smurfit European Open at the K Club in Straffan, Co. Kildare, which was won by Lee Westwood. The final round looked to be nothing more than a coronation waltz for Clarke in front of a partisan crowd. Saturday’s second round saw him come home in 60, an effort composed of 12 birdies and six pars. Then on Sunday, he aced the par-3 fifth hole, landing his ball in front of the green and getting just the right kind of roll for it to drop.
The collapse came quickly on Monday. By the ninth hole, Westwood’s five birdies brought him level with the stumbling Clarke, who was betrayed by his putter. Clarke needed 38 putts to get through the final round, as opposed to 25 and 27 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Westwood won with a final score of 271, with Clarke and Peter O’Malley three
shots behind in second.
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"It’s going to take a long time to get over [this]," said Clarke. "This has been one of my most disappointing days ever."
Other Irish representatives to go 72 holes included Padraig Harrington, tied for 18th at 281 (69-73-71-68), Des Smyth, tied for 45th at 285 (72-70-72-71), Damian McGrane, tied for 55th at 287 (72-70-72-73), and Philip Walton, 72nd at 297 (72-71-76-78). Unable to clear the cut line of 143 or better were Robert Giles, 147 (74-73), Raymond Burns, 147 (73-74), Stephen Hamill, 149 (74-75), Paul McGinley, 149 (77-72), Jimmy Heggarty, 151 (70-81), John McHenry, 156 (76-80) and Damian Mooney, 156 (83-73).
Christy O’Connor, Jr. extended his return to Europe by a week to compete in the Wentworth Seniors Open at the Wentworth Club’s Edinburgh Course in England. Fresh off his Senior British Open victory at Portrush, O’Connor settled for a 10th place finish. His opening 74 left him with a lot to do, and although he responded with consecutive rounds of 69, his 212 was still seven shots adrift of Neil Coles. The two other Irish representatives to distinguish themselves were Denis O’Sullivan, tied for 13th at 213 (72-73-68), and Eddie Polland, tied for 15th at 214 (73-73-69).
Keith Nolan had a solid go of it in the Dakota Dunes Open at the Dakota Dunes Country Club in South Dakota last weekend. Nolan finished in 28th place with five others, all of whom shot 10-under 278. Nolan, who has been plagued by erratic play in his two years as a pro, broke par of 72 in each round. He shot 68, 70, 69 and 71, earning $2,281. Fran Quinn earned the title after winning a playoff with two others who tied at 270. John Kernohan needed 140 or better to make the cut, and he was on track after opening with a 70, but a second-round 75 sent him packing.
Golden Bear Tour
P.J. Cowan didn’t have the lead heading into the third and final round of the Nicklaus Apparel Classic at PGA National’s Champion course in Florida, but he, too, blew a chance to rake in the top prize. Cowan, who opened with rounds of 69 and 67 was tied for second with John Nieporte, two strokes behind Brett Boner. Boner went out and shot 77, while Nieporte hit 76. With these two leaving the door wide open, the best Cowan could do was 73, which left him tied for fifth place at 209. Adam Spring finished as low man at 207. Cowan earned $5,020. He stands sixth on the Tour’s money list with earnings of $32,199.
European Challenge Tour
After posing an early threat by shooting 69, Francis Howley found the Espoo Golf Club trickier in subsequent rounds, filing 75s in each of the three to end the Finnish Masters six over par at 294. L. Parsons had the winning score of 272. Missing the cut, which fell at 144, were Gary Murphy, 148 (75-73), Sean Quinlivan, 152 (79-73), and David Higgins, 153 (77-76).