By John Manley
Last weekend was the right time and the right place for Darren Clarke. He earned his first victory of 2002 on the cusp of this week’s U.S. Open. The event was the English Open, which he also won in 1999 and 2000. Clarke’s finishing score of 271 (65-70-68-68) was three strokes better than the runner-up, Soren Hansen.
Clarke shared the lead with a different challenger after each round of the four-day tournament at the Marriott Forest of Arden. Jarrod Moseley matched Clarke’s 65 on Thursday, then David Drysdale shared the spotlight with 135 after Friday. Raph’l Jacquelin kept pace with the winner through Saturday, when they both stood at 203.
Clarke began play in Sunday’s wind and rain with five straight pars, then served notice on his rivals with birdies at six and seven. He placed the title out of reach at the par-five 12th hole. A drive and a five iron left the ball 18 feet shy of the hole. He then putted in for an eagle three and an insurmountable five-stroke lead.
“I feel very comfortable at the moment,” Clarke said. “I’m swinging it well and hitting it where I want to most of the time.”
The winning purse of euro 208,797 boosted Clarke to 11th place on the Volvo Order of Merit.
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Philip Walton tied for 61st place at 288 (71-72-72-73), with Paul McGinley right behind among a group in 66th place at 289 (72-71-72-74). Eamonn Darcy’s 293 (74-68-73-78) placed him a tie for 79th place.
The cut fell at 143, which was too low for David Higgins, 149 (75-74) and Des Smyth, 150 (71-79). Michael Hoey didn’t bother with Friday’s round, choosing to withdraw after Thursday’s 81.
Clarke’s next engagement is this week’s U.S. Open at the Bethpage Black Course on Long Island, where he will tee off with Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco on Thursday and Friday. The trio is scheduled to begin play on the 10th tee on Thursday at 1:35 p.m. Friday will find them leaving from the first tee at 8:35 a.m. Padraig Harrington has an 8:25 appointment on number one on Thursday with Tom Lehman and Steve Stricker, with whom he will reconvene on Friday at 1:25 on the 10th tee. McGinley’s tee times are 12:25 Thursday on the first tee and 7:25 Friday on the 10th. He is scheduled to play with Jay Don Blake and Ben Crane.
Christy O’Connor, Jr. tied for 41st place at the Senior PGA Championship, played over the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. He finished 12 over par at 292 (73-72-75-72), earning $7,050. Joe McDermott shot 152 (76-76) and missed the cut by three strokes. Fuzzy Zoeller’s 278 was good for a two-stroke win over Hale Irwin.
Gary Murphy’s third-round 68, which included a hole-in-one, thrust him into contention in the Nykredit Danish Open at Horsens Golf Club, but his final round saw him shoot five over par. He tied for 19th place at 294 (77-72-68-77). Stephen Browne’s 311 (78-74-80-79) left him in 58th place.
Peter Lawrie missed the cut by four strokes, shooting 156 (76-80). Ed Stedman’s 285 was the winning number.
Denis O’Sullivan was the low Irishman in the Flanders Nippon Legends in Golf in Belgium. He carded 210 (70-72-68) for 54 holes, which was five strokes behind Gary Wintz, the medalist.
Also taking up the chase were David Jones, tied for 18th place at 217 (69-74-74), Paul Leonard, tied for 22nd place at 218 (71-74-73), Kenny Stevenson, tied for 47th place at 223 (72-74-77), Michael Murphy, tied for 62nd place at 228 (76-76-76), and Eddie Polland, tied for 65th place at 230 (75-76-79).