Clarke eight adrift after opening 71

Ronan MacNamara

Darren Clarke (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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Darren Clarke is eight shots off the lead after the opening day of the Principal Charity Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.

Clarke opened his campaign with a one-under 71 to lie in a share of 40th place at Wakonda Club as Kirk Triplett ascended to the summit with a nine-under 63.

Triplett leads a trio of Jerry Kelly, Ken Tanigawa and Brett Quigley by two shots.

2011 Open Champion Clarke traded three birdies and two bogeys in his opening round. The Portrush native recovered from a bogey on the fourth hole with two birdies in three holes on the eighth and tenth.

A bogey on the par-3 14th was quickly recovered by a bounceback birdie on the par-5 15th as he came home in 35.

Clarke will need something special if he is to thrust himself into contention over the weekend especially if Triplett can continue his rich vein of form. The early leader admitted his opening 63 came as a bit of a surprise to him.

“Sixty-three is a miracle (Laughs.) No, I haven’t shot a low score in a long time and it kind of dawned on me, I had a nice back nine, 5 under on the back nine, which is the easier nine,” he said. “The front nine presents some challenges, but I hit some poor shots. I chipped in on 1 for birdie, nice up-and-down on 2, great save from 125 yards on 4 and then made a no-brainer down-the-slope putt on 6. That’s what you have to do to shoot a low round and I’m thrilled to have gotten that.”

There has been plenty of good in Triplett’s game recently but his hard work has often been undone by one or two bad swings leading to big numbers. On Friday he had his putter to thank for getting him out of trouble to save pars when he needed to.

“Well, I’ve been making a lot of birdies and I’ve been putting reasonably well all year, but I’ve been throwing up these roadblocks pretty much every round making a bogey or a double. My misses have been — when I miss a shot, it’s really been a struggle for me to make a par. Sometimes it’s even doubles and triples. Today, the bad swings that I made I ended up making pars and I made a couple of extra-long putts as well. Made a long putt on 3, long putt on 6 and there you have it. It doesn’t seem like it’s that much different even though I know it is a big difference.”

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