Senior Open leader Darren Clarke calls for 'dialogue over sad state of affairs for game'

Darren Clarke hit the hump but didn’t take it. Not after he’d signed off with a birdie in the second round of the Senior Open despite seeing his 3-wood second shot on the par-5 18th on the King’s Course at Gleneagles have the oomph taken out of hit by catching the top of the bank in front of him.

“Thankfully I hit it too low but very straight, so it stayed on the fairway,” said the Northern Irishman, smiling, as he reflected on coming up well short but managing to salvage the situation with a fine up and down for a 67, which, coupled with an opening 65, gave him the halfway lead on eight-under-par in Perthshire.

New tees at both the 12th and 18th have been big talking points in the $2.75 million Rolex presented event due to the fact the majority of the players in the 154-strong field have been unable to carry the saddles straddling the fairways on the respective holes.

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“It doesn’t make any sense to hit driver off the tee. So it’s 3-wood and rip another 3-wood,” said Clarke, who, like lots of others in the line up, is enjoying being back at the spiritual home of the Scottish Open from its Bell’s-backed days, of the challenge at the closing hole.

Darren Clarke during the second round of The Senior Open Presented by Rolex at Gleneagles. Picture: Phil Inglis/Getty Images.

“It’s a risky shot. If you’re trying to hit a 3-wood almost 290 yards, then there’s always a chance you’re going to hit it into the slope. There’s no point launching it high in the air because you’re not going to get it to the green. So you’ve got to take a gamble.”

Clarke’s opening two cards have been a mirror image in terms of birdies, having picked up shots at the fourth, tenth, 14th, 15th and 18th in both circuits. The second one also included two bogeys on the front nine, but it’s so far, so good for the 53-year-old.

“All the Bell’s Scottish Opens I played here, you learn where to hit and where not to. It’s been very beneficial,” said Clarke, who has enjoyed a decorated career, notably a 2011 Open win, but is still chasing a first senior major.

“It’s wonderful to play again at the King’s. This is one of my favourite places to come and play, the hotel and everything about the place. I’ve had some great times here.”

Darren Clarke looks on as caddie Jamie Lane gets down to business to line up a putt on the King's Course at Gleneagles. Picture: Phil Inglis/Getty Images.

Third behind Stephen Dodd in this event at Sunningdale 12 months ago, he’s not getting ahead of himself. “Two rounds to go,” pointed out Clarke in replying to being asked what winning here would mean to him, “but it would be great to get myself in there on Sunday and give myself a chance to put this jug beside the other one.”

Cameron Smith, who joined Clarke in getting his hands on that other one at St Andrews last Sunday, has been tipped to become a LIV Golf recruit, though probably not until after the FedEx Cup Play-Offs on the PGA Tour.

Earlier this week, Henrik Stenson was stripped of Europe’s Ryder Cup captaincy just before he was officially announced as having joined the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit that is being fronted by Greg Norman.

“I’m not getting away from it (LIV) because I was never in it! It’s irrelevant for me,” said Clarke on it being brought up, though he hopes that Norman, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley can start talking before too long.

“Just for the sake of the game as a whole, it would be nice if some dialogue could take place,” added Clarke. “That would be for the benefit for everyone. I’m not that smart, I’m not involved and it’s nothing to do with me. But it’s a sad state of affairs for the game right now, so let’s hope it can be resolved one way or the other.”

On a star-packed leaderboard, four-time winner Bernhard Langer, US Senior Open champion Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els are all in a group trailing Clarke by just three shots.

Langer’s 68 included a double-hit with a chip at the ninth. “I couldn’t have done that if I tried as it hit right in the middle of the club,” said the German a bizzare incident that cost him a shot, even though that no longer incurs a penalty.

“I had a shank there yesterday and a double hit today, so it’s been an interesting hole. There were no good thoughts for sure at the time, but I’m still in the hunt.”

One of the few players able to take driver off the last tee, Harrington found the 18th on the adjoining Queen’s Course on this occasion but not by design. “I hadn’t planned hitting it that far left,” he admitted of a 350-yard blow. The Irishman was disappointed that he was then unable to convert a six-foot eagle putt after “my best shot of the day” with a 4-iron.

On his day’s work, which added up to a 69, he said: “I struggled a bit. I was overly cautious. But the shot at the last will give me hope. I’ll go to sleep tonight thinking about that one.”

On a day when Korea’s Y.E. Yang and England’s Michael Watson took pride of place with matching 65s, American Scott Parel overcame a wobble early on the back nine to sit two shots behind Clarke after a 68.

Colin Montgomerie signed for six birdies, including two to finish, as he carded a 66, which saw him jump more than 30 spots into the top 15 on four-under, three less than compatriot Paul Lawrie after a 70.

“Played well the first 10 holes then absolutely shocking the last eight,” said Lawrie. “My foot has been sore. Whenever my foot is sore I can’t get through it. I get fatigued towards the end and I just back out of the shot and hit horrible necked shots with the driver.”

Qualifier Scott Henderson (70) and Andrew Oldcorn (71) also made it through to the weekend on level-par and one-over respectively, but, with the cut falling on three-over, Euan McIntosh (71) and Sandy Lyle (78) both bowed out on six-over and 10-over.

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