Clarke records Top-15 finish but struggles for consistency at Hoag Classic

Adam McKendry
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Clarke records Top-15 finish but struggles for consistency at Hoag Classic

Darren Clarke (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

An eventful final round saw Darren Clarke finish just inside the top-15 at the Hoag Classic in California as the former Open champion looks to find the result to kickstart his season into life.

Clarke has failed to finish inside the top-10 in any of the opening four events of the season now and is struggling for a consistent stretch that would have him in contention at the weekends.

This was a case in point where, hanging onto the coat-tails of the leaders at the end of day one in Newport Beach following a five-under 66, the 53-year-old followed it up with back-to-back rounds of 72 to drop well off the pace.

On Sunday he showed that he still has the capability to produce birdies – four of them, in fact, including at his closing hole to take something forward from the week – but bogeys are also an issue as he recorded five of them to slip outside the top-10.

He will have nearly a month in which to sort things out, Clarke not back in action until the Rapiscan Systems Classic which starts on April 1, and ironing out those momentum-killing mistakes will be the priority.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Retief Goosen admitted he needed to overcome some nerves to claim the victory in Newport Beach as he shot an eight-under 63 in his final round to claim a comfortable four-shot win over Korea’s KJ Choi at 15-under.

Goosen had come into the final round trailing fellow countryman Ernie Els by one shot, but ‘Big Easy’ would fall away with a two-over 73 and instead it was down to the eventual winner to show him the way with an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey for the low round of the day.

The two-time US Open champion got off to a glorious start, holing out from a bunker for an eagle on the par-four first, and he never let up from there to ease to the win, which is his first win on the PGA Tour Champions since July 2019.

“I’ll say I was pretty nervous out there today. When you’re not in contention like Langer every week (you would be), although I’ve had a couple of good starts so far this season,” smiled the 53-year-old.

“Last week I struggled badly with allergies and couldn’t see the ball and this week it was a lot better. My lips are still broken from last week. It’s nice, I knew I was sort of playing well. Like last week it was just I couldn’t putt, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t do anything.

“It was great this week to be back in and playing. The swing felt great, I drove it nicely this week, a lot of good iron shots. I can’t complain. Obviously you win by three or four, you played well.”

Choi had six birdies and a bogey in a five-under 66 that saw him finish in solo second at 11-under, with Stephen Ames shooting a 67 and Lee Janzen a 69 to round off the top-three at nine-under for the week.

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