Clarke still in touch as Els leads at Hoag Classic

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Clarke still in touch as Els leads at Hoag Classic

Darren Clarke (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Darren Clarke is still within touching distance of the lead going into the final day of the Hoag Classic on the PGA Tour Champions but he lost ground in round two in California.

The 53-year-old could only manage a one-over 72 at Newport Beach Country Club on Saturday, three bogeys and two birdies seeing him stay in the top-10 but dropping to eighth on the leaderboard at four-under for the week.

That leaves him four shots behind leader Ernie Els going into the final round, ‘Big Easy’ carrying a one-shot lead over Lee Janzen, Retief Goosen and Cameron Beckman after a three-under 68 in his second round moved him up to eight-under for the week.

It’s been a tough start to the year for Clarke, whose best finish in his opening three events on the PGA Tour Champions was tied-14th at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in January, but he has positioned himself well in California despite a frustrating second round.

The former Open champion bogeyed his opening hole but got it back almost straight away with a birdie at the par-five third, but bogeys at the eighth and ninth saw him turn in two-over for the day.

A run of five straight pars at least steadied the ship on the back-nine, and he managed to limit the damage a little with a birdie at the par-five 15th, but he will need a low round on Sunday in order to pick up a first win on Tour since September’s Sanford International.

Meanwhile, Els got motoring with the putter in recording five birdies and two bogeys in his 68 that moves him one shot clear, however the South African believes he will need to play aggressively in round three to maintain his lead given the quality around him.

“The putter really kept me in it on a lot of holes. I know I missed a short one on 17 but, for the most part, I made the putts I needed to,” explained Els.

“I played the back-nine a lot better. The front-nine I was very scrappy, a little cold, I don’t know what it was, but on the back-nine I started hitting it better. Yeah, just that little one on 17, but the rest I can’t complain.

“(I need to) shoot a good one tomorrow. If conditions are like this tomorrow, a similar round like today might get you in a playoff, but if it’s better tomorrow, you’ve got to go a little lower.

“I think you have to go middle-60s. Guys are going to come out shooting tomorrow.”

Janzen looks to be the man carrying the most momentum into the final round as he shot the best round of day two, six birdies and a bogey leading to a five-under 66 that moves him up seven-under and just one behind.

He’s joined at that mark by Els’ fellow countryman Goosen, who birdied his first four holes and added three more around three bogeys on his way to a four-under 67, and first round leader Beckman who combined three birdies with as many bogeys in a second round 71.

Neither K.J. Choi nor David Toms should be ruled out either after rounds of 67 and 69 respectively have them six-under, just two shots adrift, with Canada’s Stephen Ames firing a 69 to sit at five-under and Clarke joined by perennial seniors winner Bernhard Langer at four-under.

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