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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Classy Clarke makes his mark
By Matt Slater
Golf editor

Bagger Vance said it best. People that play sports other than golf "lie, deliberately, to gain selfish advantage".

As the celestial caddie of the eponymous novel (and film) continued, "it is only in golf that players routinely call penalties on themselves".

Golf is a fairly unique way to pass four hours or so for lots of reasons, but it's this self-regulated honour system that really sets it apart.

Will Smith as Bagger Vance
Will Smith as Bagger Vance - the caddie-cum-guardian angel
Did Didier Drogba call a handball on himself before scoring against Manchester City this season? Did Neil Back confess to knocking the ball out of Munster scrum-half Peter Stringer's hands in the 2002 Heineken Cup final? And when was the last time you saw a batsman "walk"?

No, from tight, lime-green trousers to not letting ladies in the bar, golf does things differently. And nowhere was this better seen than at the Irish Open.

Darren Clarke has always seemed to be one of those open-book sportsmen. The dodgy strides and mighty drives, the havanas and the highlights, what was there more to know about the sometimes combustible but mainly affable Ulsterman?

Well, it now appears that Clarke is a romantic of the Vance variety too.

When play at Carton House was abandoned because of bad weather on Sunday, Clarke was two shots clear with 10 to play. But just before the hooter sounded, Clarke had pushed his drive at the 9th into the heavy rough.

When he returned to resume his round on Monday, Clarke discovered the County Kildare course's leprechauns had been at work overnight improving his lie. From being faced with a hack back to the fairway on Sunday, he now had a shot at reaching the green in two.

Honesty is part and parcel of the game and I could not have acted any other way

Darren Clarke
Having asked for a ruling, Clarke was told to thank "the little people" (probably) and play the ball as it lay.

The 37-year-old felt ill at ease about this, however, and opted to play the same sideways chip back to the short stuff he was going to have to play on Sunday.

The result? A bogey-five and the first wobble in a round that would see him bogey two of the last three holes to finish two behind Thomas Bjorn.

As Clarke later explained: "When I went back out the area around the ball had been flattened. It was a much better lie than when I left it.

"I could have put it on to the front of the green from where it was, but my conscience would not allow me to do it so I just decided the best thing to do was chip out like I would have done the previous night.

"Honesty is part and parcel of the game and I could not have acted any other way."

For that, sir, we salute you. After all, this was not some trifling rules query in the monthly medal.

Clarke is clearly a much calmer person on the course these days, and with his wife Heather still locked in a fight with cancer he has correctly reassessed the relative importance of golf in his life.

But this was still an incredibly noble gesture for a professional sportsman to make.

It is not as if he is in the kind of form that would make giving up a potential victory easier to swallow. Clarke has not won a decent tournament since claiming the WGC-NEC Invitational in 2003. He was also in sight of the first "home" win at the Irish Open since John O'Leary in 1982.

His peers were in no doubt as to what he had done. Bjorn, the chief recipient of Clarke's generosity, was quick to praise his friend.

That's the beautiful thing about this game - it's a real gentleman's game

Michael Campbell
"Darren's as good a sportsman as they come and what he did on the 9th shows his character," the Dane said.

The incident was still the main topic of conversation when the tour moved to Wentworth on Tuesday for the build-up to the PGA Championship.

US Open champion Michael Campbell said: "There's a lot of talk between the players and he's gone up in my estimation tenfold.

"I have great respect for what he did. To basically penalise himself was amazing."

Colin Montgomerie, the eight-time European number one and designer of the Carton House course, was another to laud Clarke's actions.

"It's only a shame he didn't go on and win," said the Scot. "It proves what a character Darren Clarke is - it was very easy for him to hit the ball an awful lot further than he did."

Darren Clarke
Clarke does the honourable thing and chips out sideways
Well said that man.

Which reminds me of an incident last year.

Pushing for a victory that would return him to the world's top 50 and book a place at the Masters, Montgomerie saved his par after replacing his ball in the wrong spot following an overnight rain delay. He would go on to finish fourth - despite an entirely fair final round of 60 - and miss the Masters.

But his subsequent apology for the moved ball incident did not satisfy everybody, and even though he donated his winnings to the Asian tsunami appeal the row rumbled on.

It was pointed out that he may have given up his prize money but he did not give up the far more valuable rankings points.

That, however, is all forgotten now. Isn't it?

As Campbell, who was beaten into second place in the Order of Merit by Montgomerie last season, said on Tuesday: "That's the beautiful thing about this game. It's a real gentleman's game and (Clarke) is upholding the integrity of the game and himself.

"It's just one of those things that should be repeated more often. We've had cases in the past where we've had a few bad examples set on the golf course.

"If you ask all the players what would they do in the situation I would say half would probably go for the green and the other half chip out," Campbell continued, warming to his theme of the damned and the saved.

"No parties are actually wrong because that's just the rub of the green. He got lucky, but he probably felt it wasn't the best thing to do so he chipped out sideways. That shows he's a wonderful character."

I think Bagger would make that Clarke 1, Monty 0.


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