Darren’s back nine has fans talking at Sun City

He’s received with great affection every time he comes to South Africa, but even his most ardent fans were rubbing their eyes in disbelief at Darren Clarke’s homeward nine in the second round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

It wasn’t so much the fact that the Open champion came home in one-under-par 35 as the way it was achieved: He made six birdies, a bogey and two double bogeys in a nine-hole stretch which didn’t include a single par.

“My double on 11 was not that bad,” he said, “and then on 17, I was right between clubs and tried to cut a seven-iron and tugged it long into the water. But apart from that, I hit a lot of good shots very, very close.”

He’s afraid the yo-yo finish might have torpedoed his chances of winning the tournament he first played in 1999, and in which he finished tied second after a four-way playoff won by Jim Furyk in 2005.

“That double just killed me a little bit there,” he said of his misadventure at 17. “I was five-under with three to go and I was looking to sneak another couple. I did not envisage going bogey, double-bogey and then birdie at the last.

“I have played well on a weekend here before, but I need to play really, really well – but I think I am a little bit too far back at the moment,” he added.

It was in his debut in 1999 that he played particularly well over the weekend as he carded 64 and 65 for his third place behind Ernie Els and second-placed Colin Montgomerie.

And he revealed after the second round that his opening two-over 74 was the product of exhaustion: “I nearly fainted walking onto the first green,” he said. “I just had no energy at all. I think it was jetlag catching up with me. It was a case of battling on and trying to do as well as I could.”

The crowd could have all been Clarke fans, and he’s aware of how much he’s liked in South Africa. “It is always a pleasure to be back,” he said. “I’ve had some wonderful times here at Sun City – not just here, but in South Africa in general. I love coming back here whenever I can.”

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