By PGATOUR.COM staff
ZANDVOORT, Netherlands -- Darren Clarke will return to the PGA TOUR for the first time in seven years, taking advantage of the five-year exemption he earned by winning the 2011 Open Championship.
The 45-year-old Northern Irishman, who hasn't won a tournament since that Open Championship, made the announcement Thursday. The Open Championship was Clarke's third PGA TOUR title; he also won the 2000 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and 2003 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
If he doesn't qualify for the European Tour's Final Series, he could rejoin the PGA TOUR at The McGladrey Classic in St. Simons Island, Ga., on Nov. 7-10.
"I've decided I will be taking up my U.S. TOUR card next season but that does not mean abandoning Europe," Clarke said in a statement.
Clarke gave up his PGA TOUR membership after his first wife Heather succumbed to cancer in 2006, choosing to concentrate on the European Tour to be closer to his two sons. He has since remarried and decided to take advantage of the remainder of his exemption.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Darren Clarke withdrew from the Masters on Monday, citing a hamstring injury.
The injury also sidelined Clarke last week at the Valero Texas Open, where he was planning to play. It was to be his first start of the 2013 PGA TOUR season.
The field is now at 93 -- unlike the other three majors, the Masters does not have an alternate list.
Clarke has played in 11 Masters, though the 44-year-old had qualified just once in the last four years. He has just one career top 10 here, a tie for eighth in 1998.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- A year ago, Darren Clarke was surprised to find himself with a locker in the champions area at Royal St. George's.
That is, until he realized Greg Norman had withdrawn and learned the real reason. Seems the R&A was looking for someone who might fit in with the previous winners and not make any waves.
Little did anyone know how prescient a choice Clarke would be as the enormously popular Northern Irishman went to beat Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson by three strokes later that week.
"I couldn't quite figure out, why am I in this locker, and it was due to the late withdrawal of Greg Norman that Mr. (Peter) Dawson decided, well, who (can) we put in there that won't offend anybody, that won't do anything," Clarke recalled. "... And this year I'm back in the same area, the champions' area, but having won it, I've earned my place in that part of the locker room this time."
Clarke returned the Claret Jug to Dawson as cameras flashed on Monday, albeit a wee tad worse for wear. The affable 43-year-old won't reveal exactly what happened -- except that he didn't drop it and the venerable trophy wasn't in his possession when whatever happened, happened.
"I shall say no more," he said mischievously.
Over the last 12 months, the Claret Jug has accompanied Clarke to many places, including a few countries where the small silver trophy had never been seen. He relished the opportunity to show it off, too.
"It's one of those iconic trophies that people see on television but never actually physically get to see it," Clarke said. "... A lot of people have pictures with it, and they all enjoyed it as much as I did."
And believe it or not, Clarke never joined generations of champions in taking a drink out of the Claret Jug. Its replica, yes, but the actual trophy, no.
"I just decided that the trophy was too special for me to put anything into it," Clarke said. "I was tempted on the Sunday evening and the Monday evening and the Tuesday evening and the Wednesday evening and for about two weeks afterwards. I never managed to put anything into it. But I just thought, no, I can't do it."
Clarke admitted he hasn't followed up his career-defining victory with the kind of golf he had hoped. Like so many other major winners, Clarke found himself in the trap of trying to play "like the Open champion instead of playing the way that I played up and down in the first place." So he is still looking for his first top-10 finish 10 starts into the 2012 season.
"That's something that I did struggle with for a while, you know, for me and my goals The Open Championship is the biggest and best tournament in the world, and from the day that I lifted a club and started playing, this is all I ever wanted to do was win The Open Championship," Clarke said. "It took me quite some time to reflect upon it and see where I wanted to go after I'd won it. I struggled with that for quite some time, and then when I did then start practicing every hour of the day, it wasn't quite clicking into place.
"Maybe now that I've given the Jug back for this week, maybe I'll get back to playing the way I can play."
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods didn’t need it, but Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker, Luke Donald and amateur Patrick Cantlay – to name a few – did.
What was it? The 10-shot rule.
After two rounds, the Masters cuts to the low 44 players and ties and anyone within 10 shots of the lead. That meant Woods slid in on his own (147, T-40) while the others needed those two shots of grace to make the cut at 5-over 149.
Sixty three players in all made the cut.
Stricker and Bradley shot 77s, but eased in at 4-over 148 along with Fowler and Donald. Cantlay shot 78, but made it at 149.
Who didn’t make it? Among others, former Masters champions Mike Weir, Jose Maria Olazabal, Larry Mize and Tom Watson (151) , Bernhard Langer and Rory Sabbatini, who both shot 80s Friday and finished at 152, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa (153) and Darren Clarke, who shot 81 and finished at 154.
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
Bubba Watson came up just short in his bid to win the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, but that’s about the only way to get “Bubba Watson” and “short” in the same breath.
Watson is leading the PGA TOUR in driving distance through the first 10 weeks of the season, and there’s not a close second. Watson is averaging 316.1 yards per drive, nearly nine yards ahead of Robert Garrigus (check out the full list here ).
At Doral, Watson and his all-pink G20 were, well, monstrous at TPC Blue Monster, with 37 drives of 300 yards or longer and a field-leading average of 318.4 yards. For the season, more than 62 percent of Watson’s drives have sailed more than 300 yards.
Should the Florida panhandle native hold on to his top spot, it would be the first time he’s led the stat since a three-year run as the TOUR’s longest driver from 2006-08. He was second in 2009 and 2010 to Robert Garrigus, and second to J.B. Holmes last season.
BELLYING UP: Thomas Bjorn used a belly putter for the first time in his career at WGC-Cadillac, an Odyssey White Hot XG No. 1 Protype Blade. He opened with two 68s before a 75-71 weekend left him in a tie for 24th.
Darren Clarke also had a belly in competition for the first time, a TaylorMade Ghost Spider.
TWEAKS: Phil Mickelson had new shafts, Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana a’hina 70x, in his Callaway Razr Fit driver and Big Bertha Diablo 3-wood. … Noted hybrid fan Y.E. Yang had a TaylorMade RBZ 3-wood in the bag at Doral, a 13-degree model to try to stay under the strong winds. … After switching to TaylorMade’s Tour Preferred MC irons in the offseason, Dustin Johnson returned to Tour Preferred MB irons – his 2011 sticks – at WGC-Cadillac.
HOOP IT UP: Think you’ve got the NCAA Tournament figured out? Golfweek has a contest awarding golf gear like a Rickie Fowler-signed hat to the best bracket. Check it out here .
WINNERS’ BAGS: Justin Rose at the
Driver: TaylorMade R11, 8 degrees
3-wood: TaylorMade RBZ, 15 degrees
Hybrid: TaylorMade Rescue 11, 19 degrees
Irons: TaylorMade MB 4-PW
Wedges: TaylorMade ATV, 52, 56 degrees; Cleveland 588, 60 degrees
Putter: TaylorMade Ghost Tour Corza
Ball: TaylorMade Penta TP5
George McNeill at the Puerto Rico Open:
Driver: Cleveland Launcher Ultralite TL 310, 9.5 degrees
Fairway woods: Titleist 906F2 3-wood, 15 degrees; 5-wood, 18 degrees
Irons: Cleveland 588 Forged MB, 3-PW
Wedges: Cleveland 588 Forged, 54, 60 degrees
Putter: Nike Method 001
Ball: Srixon Z-Star XV
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
Eagle-eyed Tiger Woods fans have noticed his putter rotation over the past year, from his mainstay Scotty Cameron to a Nike Method to a Method mallet-style and, this week, back to a Nike Method blade similar to the Cameron.
But there’s one more significant change in his clubs – the shaft of his Nike VR Tour driver.
“I went away from the Diamana I’ve used for a long time and went to a Graphite Design, which I played at THE PLAYERS and last week (at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational) as well,” Woods said Wednesday at his PGA Championship press conference.
The shaft is a Graphite Design Tour AD DJ model, new for this year. It features a mid kickpoint and is optimized for high trajectory and mid-range ball spin. It’s also mostly red in color.
Anything else new in the four-time PGA champion’s bag?
“Oh, fresh wedges,” Woods said. “But that’s nothing new. Same design.”
NOT THAT HARD: Much of the pre-tournament discussion has focused on the length at Atlanta Athletic Club, specifically the 264-yard par-3 15th hole.
“I thought it was a par 4. I don’t think you’re going to be too disappointed if you walk off with a 4,” Charl Schwartzel said.
How about walking away with a 1? That’s what Webb Simpson did in a Tuesday practice round, using this Titleist 910 hybrid that Golf.com’s David Dusek captured.
VALIDATION: A long putter hasn’t been part of a major championship-winning bag yet, but with Adam Scott’s win at the elite WGC-Bridgestone, that time seems to be approaching.
Scott admitted that his Scotty Cameron Kombi long putter – which towers over the rest of the equipment in his bag – was a kind of last-ditch effort to improve his putting. But no one’s questioning it now, or ruling out Scott’s chances at winning a major on the heels of his WGC title.
“I mean, I was very frustrated and I hadn't thought about it. So yeah, I guess it's a last resort,” Scott said Tuesday in Atlanta. “Got some interesting reactions. Certainly turned a few heads when I showed up at the (WGC-Accenture) Match Play with a long putter. But to be honest, I think a few people have taken notice of the way I'm rolling the ball. I mean, it's a noticeable improvement from where I was.”
Everyone in golf has noticed.
“Whatever works, there's so many guys using so many different methods now,” British Open champion Darren Clarke said. “If you go back maybe ten years or so, the belly putter was frowned upon, the long putter was frowned upon, left-below-right (grip, for a righthanded player) was frowned upon.
“You've got Robert Garrigus, how long is his putter, 27 inches or something; you have so many different
“I spoke to Adam about it, and he's very pleased with it. He said he can't see himself going back to a short one at all.”
INSIDE THE LOGO: As it does for all the majors, TaylorMade has designed a special logo for this week’s PGA Championship. Some of the company’s staff pros are carrying it on their bags.
The four-leaf clover in the center symbolizes the birthday of Bobby Jones, the legendary Atlanta amateur. He was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1902.
Jones won 13 major championships (back when majors included the U.S. and British Amateurs), which explains the 13 rays surrounding the clover. Inset in the rays is the number 265 – the score David Toms shot at Atlanta Athletic Club 10 years ago.
The style and shapes around the logo harken to the Art Nouveau movement popular at the turn of the 20th century, which was also around the time AAC was founded (1898).
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Lee Westwood saved his best round for last at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Westwood's 65 on Sunday tied Aaron Baddeley and Matt Kuchar for the low of the day and gave the Englishman a top-10 finish at 9 under. Equally importantly, it sent Westwood off to the PGA Championship with a boost of confidence.
Westwood had been searching after missing the cut at the British Open. He enlisted the aid of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who works with his friend Darren Clarke, and short-game guru Dave Stockton, who has consulted with Rory McIlroy --- with the fact that both Northern Irishmen have won majors this year not lost on Westwood.
"It's been pretty good," Westwood said of his performance at Firestone. "I haven't hit many bad shots. I think I've missed -- not counting semi-rough where sometimes it runs off these fairways -- probably three fairways so that's pretty good golf around here. I have not missed many greens either."
Westwood, who used 27 putts on Sunday, said he felt he was making progress in his putting.
"It's moving along nicely," he said. "I don't want to get too ahead of myself, but today I felt a lot more confident on the greens, and saw the ball setting off on the line that I picked a lot more often."
And Westwood is actually looking forward to playing Atlanta Athletic Club, which by all accounts will feature severe rough and challenging greens for next week's PGA. "That's good the way I'm hitting the ball, the harder the better," he said.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Darren Clarke is still getting used to being the "Champion Golfer of the Year." Make no mistake, though, he's loving every minute of his reign as the British Open champion.
"There's been lots of 'well dones and handshakes and stuff like that, but (they) probably still think I'm a fat so-and-so who likes to have a good time, but that's fine with me," Clarke said Tuesday.
Clarke said he hasn't had much time to reflect on what he did at Royal St. George's last month. But when he missed the cut at last week's Irish Open -- the first time he was introduced on the first tee as the British Open champion -- Clarke spent some time at his home at Royal Portrush going through his mail.
"There was some very meaningful notes there, one from Jack and one from Arnie and from the Prime Minister and the President of Ireland, all sorts of really, really nice notes," Clarke said, at the same time declining to reveal the what the golf legends wrote. "So that was really cool."
And if you're wondering whether there's been any of that dark
brown stout in the Claret Jug -- don't. The fun-loving Irishman,
who plays in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational,
has too much respect for the trophy.
"To tell you the truth, there's been absolutely nothing in the Claret Jug," Clarke said. "There has not been a drink in it. When it comes to things, I thought I could, but when I got my hands on it, I'm a little bit of a traditionalist and I didn't think it would be right to put anything in there.
"I'm not saying I won't, but at this stage -- maybe Christmas dinner or Christmas lunch I might have a little bit of Claret in there, but so far there's been nothing in there."
By John Schwarb and Zak Kozuchowski, PGATOUR.COM
A T17 finish wouldn’t have been an especially notable effort in his heyday, but for Ernie Els right now, such a week at the RBC Canadian Open was positive news. His last top-20 on the PGA TOUR was a T15 in mid-March at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
The 41-year-old South African is seeing optimism in his game in part due to the addition of an Odyssey White Hot XG belly putter – perhaps an unusual sight in the Big Easy’s hands, but nothing out of the ordinary given the current trend on TOUR toward long putters.
“For most of my career I was really one of the better putters. But last year I started feeling my path of my stroke was screwed up, and I was cutting across the ball,” Els said. “I kind of got to that age, you know, playing under the gun for such a long time that you're going to feel uncomfortable on some of the shorter putts.
“I was kind of playing with the long putter in practice and then my putts were a lot better with it. I tried to go back to the shorter putter, and I found that I was again cutting the ball a bit. So I just figured, you know, I'll really try it in competition.
“So from the U.S. Open (on) I've been playing with this longer putter, and it's starting to feel really good.”
SEAN’S STUFF: TaylorMade staff player Sean O’Hair had the company’s woods and irons in the bag as usual at the RBC Canadian Open but used a Titleist Scotty Cameron California Fastback prototype putter. “The winner of the event,” as he was stealthily identified in Titleist’s blog, put the putter in play after working with Titleist folks at the British Open the week prior.
One other oddity in O’Hair’s bag at Shaughnessy – his two wedges were 52 and 60 degrees. An eight-degree gap between wedges is sizable, and rare for a TOUR pro.
GHOSTLY: TaylorMade’s new Ghost Spider’s large size and white paint make it stand out from most putters on TOUR. Andres Romero gave it an even more distinctive look at the RBC Canadian Open, where he finished one shot out of the Sean O’Hair-Kris Blanks playoff.
Romero was third in the field with 26.2 putts-per-round average using a UST Mamiya Frequency Filtered shaft in the Ghost Spider. The shaft employs interlinked carbon fiber in the butt section of the shaft to filter out unwanted vibrations. The bottom portion of Romero’s shaft was painted white, matching the color of his Spider Ghost.
FURYK FIX?: Jim Furyk, still searching for the form that won him last year’s FedExCup, auditioned new drivers at the RBC Canadian Open pro-am and chose a TaylorMade Burner SuperFast 2.0 with an Aldila RIP 65-gram shaft. The listed loft is 10.5 degrees but he had it bent to 9.
Furyk finished T34 at Shaughnessy, his best finish since a T31 in May at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
NICE DIGITS: How’s this for a major perk? Darren Clarke’s TaylorMade Penta TP now sports a 140, for his win at the 140th British Open. Check it out here.