Back-to-back birdies to end his round left Darren Clarke five shots off the trio of clubhouse leaders at the PGA Champions Tour’s Ascension Classic in Missouri.
Clarke’s opening round of 69 sees the Northern Irishman tied for 31st on two-under-par heading into the second day of play at the Norwood Hills County Club.
The veteran golfer began his opening round in steady fashion with a slew of pars on the front nine as he eased his way into his opening round – eight in as many holes in fact.
A dropped shot on the ninth was the only hiccup as Clarke started his back nine on one-over-par for the day where another par on the 10th was followed by a birdie on the 301-yard 11th.
Level scores between the 12th and 14th kept the 55-year-old even before a hectic finish to his round saw him finish birdie, bogey, birdie, birdie which gave him a round of two-under-par.
The American trio of Billy Mayfair, Tim O’Neal and Kevin Sutherland sit at the top of the scoring charts after the opening day of play alongside Korea’s Y.E. Yang, with the players recording rounds of 64 after the opening round of action – a course record at the St. Louis course.
Speaking after play on Friday, joint leader Tim O’Neal reflected on his impressive opening round of golf on his second appearance at the tournament.
“You know, last year was my first time here, I didn’t know what to expect” he explained, “Now being back here, going back to a course that you’ve played, you know the holes in your head so it does make it easier.
“95 per cent of these courses are new to me, so being back here and seeing it for the second time has definitely made it a little bit easier.”
Brian Gay and Wes Short Jr. finished a further shot back on six-under-par while Retief Goosen, Alex Cejka, Ken Duke and Steve Flesch finished their opening rounds with scores of five-under-par.
Darren Clarke gets his second round of play underway tomorrow alongside John Huston and Jeff Maggert who also finished the opening round on two-under-par (tee-off 5:24 p.m. Irish time.)
Round 2 gets underway with the group of the two-ball of Tim Herron and Jay Williamson at 2:50 p.m. Irish time.