Darren Clarke in great position heading into weekend

Darren Clarke
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Darren Clarke, a mentor to countrymen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who both have something Clarke does not -- a major -- is making a run at the Open Championship. At 4 under through 36 holes, he's near the top.
By
The PGA of America

Series: News Feature

Published: Friday, July 15, 2011 | 1:36 p.m.

Summer returned to this corner of Kent on Friday morning. Apparently autumn is making an early appearance this weekend. Darren Clarke cannot wait.

Clarke added a second successive 68 and held the clubhouse lead alongside America's Lucas Glover at 4-under par.

It was beautifully sunny and the breeze only just started to get up as the morning went on. Time to take advantage of a tasty Sandwich? No such luck. It took some old-fashioned links know-how, in the case of Clarke, and a relaxed attitude, in the case of Glover who followed his opening 66 with a level-par 70, prosper.

Young Tom (Lewis), the amateur who shared the lead with Thomas Bjorn overnight, battled hard for a 74 but had the thrill of being right there when Old Tom (Watson) holed in one at the sixth. It was another golden moment for the five-time champion.

Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion who won at Quail Hollow earlier this season, has been hanging out with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love. "Eating as much as we can," Glover said. Love got to the clubhouse at 2 under. They will have had much to discuss over their next dinner.

Not least what the Brits are always talking about, the weather. To Clarke, a spot of wind and rain will not be daunting. He grew up playing at Portrush and after many years of living near London he moved back to Northern Ireland last year. A winter of playing back home may just set him up nicely for the weekend.

"I've been doing a lot of practicing in bad weather because that's usually what we get at Portrush," Clarke said. "That's a little bit harsh. It's not always that bad but it's certainly been some tough conditions, not quite as easy as it was when I was living in London.

"It's a case of getting used to playing in bad weather on links again and that's what I've been doing over the winter. Hopefully, it will stand me in good stead."

Clarke, at the age of 42, has been rejuvenated this week after a conversation with the sports psychologist Bob Rotella on Wednesday. He was not giving away too much. "It's the same old, same old," he said.

But Clarke, who pulled out of a tournament to stay at home and help Rory McIlroy celebrate his U.S. Open victory, did admit he had received some, say we say, encouragement that if McIlroy and Graeme McDowell could win majors, what about the old stager?

"There was a lot of people telling me it's my turn now," he said. "There was a feeling they were telling me to pull my finger out."

Clarke has known McIlroy since the Holywood kid was 12 and he went through Clarke's academy. Clarke has also helped McDowell with advice over the years. "Obviously, my advice was very, very good," he joked.

But is he jealous? Not a bit.

"Absolutely, not," he said. "Why would I be jealous? I am more proud. I've been personally delighted for the pair of them. To have back-to-back U.S. Open champions from a little country like Northern Ireland, that's a massive achievement. We've got two wonderful ambassadors for Northern Ireland in G-Mac and Rory."

McDowell, struggling, he admitted, to live up to the expectations of being a major winner, looked like missing the cut after finishing at five over following a 77.

"I'm a bit of a mental case out there," he said. "My attitude has been poor the last two days, more frustration and disappointment than patience."

McDowell added: "It is great to see Darren playing well. He is a fantastic ball-striker and a great links player. It is pretty amazing how certain players winning can spur others on. I'll be watching with interest over the weekend. I wish him all the best. I wish I was there tussling myself."