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Monday 5 December 2016

Clarke hopes for a lie-in

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke has set his sights on at least earning a lie-in on Saturday morning as he looks to win the Irish Open for the first time at the 24th attempt.

Clarke has recorded just two top-10 finishes in his previous 23 appearances, finishing second to Colin Montgomerie in 2001 and third in 2006, when he fluffed his pitch to the 18th and then three-putted for bogey.

However, he emerged with enormous credit that year after an incident on the ninth when play resumed on the Monday following a weather delay.

The Northern Irishman had pushed his tee shot into heavy rough before play was suspended on Sunday evening, but found the ball in a much better lie the next day.

Clarke refused to take advantage of any misguided intervention and, instead of going for the green which he was entitled to do, chipped out sideways, eventually taking a bogey five and going on to finish two shots behind winner Thomas Bjorn.

"It's one event I've always aspired to play really, really well in," Clarke said at Royal County Down yesterday. "Unfortunately, more Irish Opens than I can count, I've been first off on the Saturday morning which meant that I was not involved in the business end of the tournament. Hopefully this week will be a little bit different."

Clarke has not recorded a single top-10 on the European Tour since winning the British Open Championship at Sandwich in 2011, but comes into the event on the back of a closing 66 in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday.

"I played really nicely all week, just made some silly mistakes," Clarke added. "In terms of my ball striking it was really, really good again. Hopefully I can bring that with me this week.

"We are on one of the best courses in the world, it's playing very fast and it's going to be a really, really tough challenge this week. The golf course doesn't know whether you're a home player or not, but I think a little bit of local knowledge and knowledge of playing links golf is going to be important this week."

experimenting

Rather than experimenting with a new Ryder Cup qualifying format, Clarke plans to stick to a winning formula when he picks the European team for the 2016 competition.

Clarke said he would adopt fellow Irishman Paul McGinley's victorious arrangement which spurred Europe to a five-point triumph at Gleneagles last year.

Clarke's 12-man team will be made up of four players from a European' points table, five from a World Points table and three wildcard picks. Clarke said: "My overall feeling was given the team Paul had assembled at Gleneagles, and how successful they were, it would have been very foolish of me to try and make any changes to that system."

The 2016 Ryder Cup qualifying process will commence in September with the M2M Russian Open in Moscow and conclude at the end of August 2016.

Triple major champion Pádraig Harrington has backed the European Tour's decision to start the qualifying process for next year's Ryder Cup in Russia.

"It's a good thing not only for the European Tour but golf in general," Harrington said. "We need to embrace eastern Europe more.

Harrington has two more opportunities to qualify for next month's US Open. On Monday, the world number 86, suffering from a shoulder injury, failed to progress through qualifying at Walton Heath but he can still book his ticket for Chambers Bay in Washington.

A top-three finish at the Irish Open, a tournament he won in 2007, would earn him a place at the second major of the year via a spot in the top-60 of the rankings.

Harrington has also entered the June 11-14 St Jude Classic in Memphis where a similar finish would also suffice. "I still need to win 25 ranking points ... and I should qualify," he said.

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