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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Clarke tied for lead as he goes in search of Champions Tour double

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Darren Clarke will have a great chance of securing his second PGA Champions Tour victory in just three months when he enters the final round tied for the lead alongside Jerry Kelly at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.

Clarke birdied the final hole to claim a one stroke win and his first Tour title in almost a decade with victory at the TimberTech Championship in November and he’s well on his way to win number two after adding a four-under 68 to his opening nine-under 63 to move level with Kelly at 13-under par in the first event of the year.

The Dungannon favourite was even par through 11 holes and treading water slightly before knocking it close on the par-3 twelfth and kick-starting a run of four birdies in a row.

“I just didn’t really have it today, to be honest with you,” said Clarke, whose last win prior to November’s TimberTech was the 2011 Open Championship. “Goose [Retief Goosen] played really, really nicely and he just struggled on the greens a bit. He just had a tough day on the greens. He was playing nicely. So I was just trying to hang on a little bit, and then hit a few better shots on the back nine obviously. Holed a couple putts as well.”

Kelly birdied the 18th for a 5-under 67 to match Clarke at 13-under 131 with a round left in the opening event of the year. Goosen followed his opening 63 with a 71. He bogeyed the final two holes.

“Just couldn’t make a thing,” said Goosen, the two-time U.S. Open champion from South Africa. “Lost sort of my speed on the greens quite badly today, and if you have the wrong speed you can’t make anything.”

Fred Couples had a 63, the best round of the day, to join Kevin Sutherland (68) at 10 under. The 61-year-old former Masters champion eagled the par-5 14th and birdied Nos. 16 and 18.”

“Much needed to go fairly low and then it just kept getting better and better,” Couples said. “I hit a wicked 3-wood on 14 and curved it up on the green. It rolled about 30 feet and made it for eagle. It was a really good round.”

Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer Bernhard Langer was nine-under after a 67. The 63-year-old German star is a three-time winner of the tournament. Jim Furyk had his second 68 to get to eight-under. Ernie Els was six-under after a 69.

The tournament is the first of the year, but the season is a continuation from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the tour for four months. It is being played for the 25th straight season at Hualalai Golf Course, the longest run a venue in PGA Tour Champions history.

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