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Sunday, 22 July, 2001, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Clarke earmarked for glory
BBC Sport Online's John Haughey profiles the career of Northern Ireland golfing star Darren Clarke after his near-miss in The Open.
Darren Clarke may have missed out on Open glory again - but he looks destined for future success.
Clarke was tipped for golfing greatness long before he turned professional in the summer of 1990
At that year's Irish Open while still an amateur, he played alongside Sam Torrance.
The Scotsman was so impressed with the 21-year-old's game that he urged him to turn professional immediately.
Clarke took the advice, thereby losing out on a certain place in the Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team which was to take on the US at Portmarnock the following season.
Unlike many amateur stars who found the transitition to the professional game tough, Clarke found no trouble retaining his European Tour card in his early years on the circuit.
However, such was his talent that it was still a surprise that his first European victory did not come until the 1993 Alfred Dunhill Open in Belgium.
The victory was celebrated heartily that evening at his home golf club in Dungannon, county Tyrone, where Clarke had phoned to say that all the drinks for the remainder of the night were on him.
Everyone in the know in European golf expected the Belgium win to trigger a succession of victories for the burly Ulsterman.
But 1994 was a comparatively lean year for Clarke with him finishing 37th in the order of merit while a winless 1995 meant that he narrowly missed out on a Ryder Cup place that season.
A victory at the German Masters in 1996 did not completely allay doubts about an Irishman who was converting a tiny percentage of his winning chances into first prizes.
His long overdue Ryder Cup debut duly came at Valderrama in 1997 after a season which saw his contend strongly in The Open Championship at Troon only to finish joint second behind Justin Leonard.
But while Europe retained the trophy it was not an entirely satisfactory three days for Clarke as captain Seve Ballesteros only deemed him good enough for two outings.
Reports claimed that Clarke was "hurt" by his lack of play at Valderrama even though the player diplomatically answered the claims by saying that Europe's win had vindicated the captain's policy.
The breakthrough year in Clarke's career was probably 1998.
It was the season when he turned his massive potential into the kind of victories which marked him out as a potential major winner.
Victory at the Benson & Hedges International in the early part of the 1998 season was the biggest win of his career and he spent the year vying with Colin Montgomerie for the European number one slot.
In the end, victory at the season-ending Volvo Masters, when he shot a magnificent final round 63, was not enough to earn Clarke the coveted Order of Merit title, but progess had been made.
Despite winning the English Open which helped him to eighth place in the Order of Merit, the 1999 campaign was a season of comparative failure for Clarke.
His amazing collapse in the European Open at the K-Club had tongues wagging about the Ulsterman's temperament.
He had shot an amazing 12-under-par 60 on the penultimate day at the Kildare venue to set up a six-shot lead only to shoot 15 strokes worse on the Sunday to hand victory to Lee Westwood.
Clarke answered his critics in the best possible way in early 2000 by comfortably defeating Tiger Woods in the final of the Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship at La Costa in California.
It was not a major championship but such was the manner of the victory that it marked out Clarke in the unwanted category of great players who had not yet won one of golf's four big events.
Buoyed by the $1m cheque from the La Costa win, Clarke seemed odds-on to win last year's order of merit title.
However, only one more win followed in the campaign and his great friend Lee Westwood nipped in to claim the number one slot.
The early part of this year saw victories over weak fields in South Africa and Japan, but his form in the opening months of the European Tour was mediocre.
Two consecutive weeks in his native land saw a dramatic end to Clarke's comparative slump.
First, he shot a final round 64 in the Irish Open at Fota Island to take joint-second behind Colin Montgomerie.
A week later, he achieved a cherished ambition by winning on home soil when he took a three-shot victory in the European Open at the K-Club.
He had found form at precisely the right time with the Open Championship only a fortnight away.
And Clarke looked more than capable of mounting a serious challenge for the title, before having to settle for a spot in the chasing pack.
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