By John Manley
Darren Clarke knows that sometimes you have to wait for your opponent to assist you in your ascension up the leaderboard; you have to wait for him to take himself out of contention. And how does Clarke know this? Just ask all his rivals, who were smiling last week (all at least privately and some quite publicly) when the portly one finished well south of the cut line in the South African Open after shooting 77 and 78, thereby ridding them of one stout challenge down the homestretch.
Clarke might have expected to see his name atop the leaderboard after he shot 63 to break the Lost City course record of 64, which he and nine others held. Yet, there was American Bruce Vaughan still clinging to a one-stroke lead after 36 holes in the Dimension Data Pro-Am at the Sun City Resort in South Africa.
Clarke shot 69 over the Gary Player layout in the third round, but Vaughan was no longer a worry, having stumbled his way to a 74. With Clarke’s lead at four strokes, rival Nick Price was quoted as saying that the Antrim man could shoot at worst a 69 in the final round and still win. Instead, Clarke got away with a final-round 71 and a two-stroke victory.
Clarke had to take a penalty drop on the par-five 18th hole after his approach shot overran the green and went for a swim. After dropping, he knocked the ball to within 10 feet of the pin and sealed the win with a single putt. He closed with a 72-hole score of 14-under 274, dashing the hopes of runners-up Retief Goosen and Tjaart van der Walt.
Paul McGinley tied for 25th place at two-under 286 (70-70-73-73) with Lee Westwood and Trevor Dodds, among others. Jim Carvill settled into 77th place at 13-over 301 (76-70-77-78).
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Richard Coughlan has to be feeling pretty good about himself. He’s had two years to beat himself up mentally for losing his Tour card and seems to realize the gravity of making cuts and earning checks that may tip the balance between retaining his playing privileges and having to requalify.
So, while the likes of David Duval, Tom Lehman and Justin Leonard were tipping the clubhouse attendants and bidding adieu after the 54-hole cut was established in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am in California, Coughlan was still plugging away on Sunday.
After an opening 74 left him within arm’s reach of the bottom of the field, Coughlan rebounded with rounds of 71 and 68 to ensure his participation on Sunday. At that point, he was tied for 42nd and in no position to threaten the leaders, but those dollars will make a difference come October. Anyhow, he finished with a 74, dropping him into a tie for 53rd place at 287. His take was $9,360. The pride of Birr, Co. Offaly finished 15 shots behind medalist Davis Love III.
Jacksonville Winter Tour
Different venue, same story for Keith Nolan. This mini-tour stopped at Oak Bridge at Sawgrass in Jacksonville, Fla., for a 54-hole event. The Bray, Co. Wicklow man topped the leaderboard after 18 holes with a seven-under-par 65.
He shot 70 the next time around and was still only two strokes behind the leader, Kyle Voska, heading into the final 18 holes. Since Voska finished with a 71, the door was left wide open for Nolan to contend for the championship by shooting 69 or better.
Instead, he signed his name to a one-over 73. That placed him eighth in the standings at 208, four shots behind Voska, who held off the other challengers. Nolan consoled himself with earnings of $752.