Clarke takes early lead at British Masters

Darren Clarke shot a 6-under 66 at The Belfry on Thursday to take the early lead from Paul Casey at the British Masters.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:40 IST
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Sutton Coldfield:Darren Clarke shot a 6-under 66 at The Belfry on Thursday to take the early lead from Paul Casey at the British Masters. Casey trails by a stroke after completing a bogey-free 67 on the 7,163-yard course, which has hosted four Ryder Cups. Clarke, whose wife is battling cancer, almost withdrew from the tournament after a poor showing in Wednesday's pro-am. But two hours on the practice range with his coach seemed to help as he got one eagle and six birdies. ''I hit a lot of good shots and took advantage, and a lot of poor shots that weren't disastrous,'' said Clarke, who has not played since pulling out after the first round at Houston last month to be with his wife. ''Sometimes thinking about other things benefits my golf. Not all the time, but sometimes,'' he added. Clarke is playing at the British Masters because it is run by his manager, Chubby Chandler. ''I was thinking of pulling out yesterday but I talked myself out of it. It would have been unprofessional,'' Clarke said. Starting at the 10th with a bogey, Clarke had four birdies on the next seven holes. He dropped another stroke at the 18th, the hole over water to a three-tiered green, when he missed the fairway. But he sank a 20-foot putt for birdie at the second and a 15-footer for eagle at the next. He also birdied his last hole. Casey, who with David Howell won a key fourballs victory in Europe's Ryder Cup win in 2004, went through a slump last year which he said resulted from a lack of confidence. But he won the China Open late last year and is currently ranked 57th. ''I want to get into the top 50 to get into next month's US Open,'' said Casey, who missed it last year when his ranking fell. ''I don't want to be sitting at home watching another major.'' Casey hit a lot of 3-irons Thursday as part of his strategy for the course. ''It seems to have paid off,'' he said. Marten Olander of Sweden had the next best score with a 69, while Kevin Stadler, whose father Craig has played in a Ryder Cup match at The Belfry, finished with a 2-under 70 in his first competitive round in Britain. (AP)

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