/ Golf

Clarke maintains Open advantage

Updated: Saturday, 16 Jul 2011 22:05

Clarke - Has a great opportunity to at last claim a Major title
Clarke - Has a great opportunity to at last claim a Major title

Darren Clarke, who played his first Open Championship 20 years ago and has looked on as so many friends and rivals have lifted the famous trophy aloft, leads by a shot with 18 holes to go at Sandwich.

The 42-year-old today overcame rain, wind and all the inevitable pressures of setting the pace in the biggest event in golf to fire a superb third-round 69.

There were only two rounds better than that all day, but the fact that one of the two 68s came from Dustin Johnson means that the American is now the chief danger to Clarke's hopes of continuing the remarkable story of Irish success in the last four years.

A Padraig Harrington's back-to-back Opens and a US PGA title as well, Graeme McDowell captured the US Open last year and then compatriot Rory McIlroy succeeded him last month.

Now their fellow Northern Irishman Clarke, playing the 54th major of his career but without a top 10-finish in them for a decade, stands five under par and looks down on the rest of the field.
He knows he might never have a better chance to lift the Claret Jug denied him in 1997 by a closing 65 from American Justin Leonard.

But Johnson has a burning desire too after what happened to him last season.

The 27-year-old led the US Open by three with a round to go at Pebble Beach, but let in McDowell by crashing to an 82.

Then two months later he thought he was in a play-off for the US PGA after a closing bogey, but was given a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club on sand on the final hole.

In joint third place on two under are Thomas Bjorn, the Dane who blew the 2003 Open at the course after leading by three with four to play, and American Rickie Fowler.

Glover shot 73 playing with Clarke, while Fowler matched Johnson's 68 partnering fellow 22-year-old Rory McIlroy, whose chances of a US Open-Open double hang by a thread now with a 74 dropping him nine behind.

That included driving out of bounds on the long 14th and running up a double-bogey seven, but McIlroy did then recall that in 1999 Paul Lawrie was 10 back at Carnoustie and won.

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