Clarke exits at semi-final stage as Woods and Love III progress to the final at La Costa
Darren Clarke’s hopes of creating a piece of World Golf Championship history came to a dramatic end at La Costa Resort & Spa in California when he lost his semi-final of the Accenture Match Play against Davis Love III at the third extra hole.
The 35 year old Irishman, who won the title at the Carlsbad venue in 2000, had hoped to become the first player in history to win the event twice but, having cruised through his morning quarter-final against Jerry Kelly by 5 and 3, he had to suffer the cruellest of exits at the hands of his good friend Love III in an absorbing last four tussle.
Love III, the third seed in the event, will now go forward to play the Number One seed and defending champion Tiger Woods in the 36 hole final after the World Number One saw off Australia’s Stephen Leaney by 2 and 1 in the other semi-final. Clarke will face Leaney in the 18 hole Third/Fourth place play-off.
Clarke had beaten Love III 7 and 6 in the second round of the event last year but there was never any prospect of such a one sided contest again, indeed the most there was ever between the players was two holes.
Love III held the upper hand for most of the early stages and was two up after 11 but Clarke showed the dogged determination which had been evident in his play all week to battle back. He won the 12th in par before back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th saw him move into the lead for the first time since the third.
When Love III missed a five footer for par at the 16th hole, Clarke stood two up with two to play, but the writers penning a repeat Woods v Clarke final in their early copy were in for an unpleasant surprise.
A Clarke bogey five at the 17th saw his lead halved before Love III conjured up a superb birdie four at the 558 yard 18th to force the match into extra holes, smashing a three wood second shot 271 yards to the centre of the green from where he two putted for the hole.
With the first two extra holes, the tenth and the 15th, shared in par figures, the ending came for Clarke at the third extra hole, the 188 yard 16th. Unable to do better than a regulation par three, he could only look on as Love III rolled in his uphill ten footer for the match.
“Obviously I am disappointed not to make the final having been two up with two to go and losing on the 21st but that is part of match play golf,” said Clarke. “Davis handed me the 16th, I handed him the 17th and he hit two great shots on the 18th to take it into extra holes and then made a great birdie to win.
“I would love to have played Tiger in the final again but as I keep going back to, my golf has been a bit of a grind at times this week as opposed to the golf I can play. Davis, however, is striking it great so I think you are in for a good final tomorrow.”
For his part, Love III was fulsome in his praise of Clarke. “Darren and I have become good friends and we are very respectful of each other,” he said. “It is a treat to play somebody like that, that is passionate about playing and still loves to be friends afterwards, doesn’t take it hard.”
Earlier in the day, there had been hope that Clarke would be joined in the semi-finals by his fellow European Tour colleagues Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter, but the Irishman and the Englishman both saw their challenges come to an end in the morning at the quarter-final stage.
Harrington typically battled hard against Woods but was always up against it after the World Number One and defending champion moved four up at the turn. An eagle three at the 11th was the one ray of sunshine in Harrington’s round before he bowed out on the 17th green.
“I didn’t swing it that well to be honest,” he said. “I had to putt well as well but I didn’t really. Playing Tiger it is quite usual to only get a few chances and if you don’t take them when they come you can find yourself in trouble.
“If I had been playing a little bit better I might have given myself a few more chances but it didn’t pan out that way. To be honest I wasn’t at the top of my game here this week, I tended to scramble through my matches but the positive thing I suppose was that I won and got further than I ever have here.
“I will try to fly over to Dubai as soon as I can now. I am looking forward to that and also looking forward to seeing Caroline and Patrick, who will be over there for the week with me.”
Joining Harrington on the flight out of California was Poulter and although the 28 year old Englishman put up a sterling showing throughout the week in his debut in the event, he admitted he was annoyed at having lost on the final green of his quarter-final to Leaney.
“I’m happy with the week, happy with my driving all week, but I’m fuming about today to be honest,” he said. “I was giving Stephen Christmas presents all the way round. You can’t miss greens from the middle of the fairway and I did that three times on the front nine which is why I was three down at the turn.
“I played well enough off the tee to win that match and if I had hit some half decent iron shots it could well have been a different story. He didn’t play all that well but I played worse, that just about sums up things.
“I should have won the 17th really and I had a chance at the 18th as well so right there were two chances to win the match even when I hadn’t been playing that well. So I think it is fair to say that I’m pretty gutted not to have taken that match.”
For a while it looked like Leaney was going to cause a major upset by beating Woods in their semi-final, especially after he battled back from two down after 11 holes, to level matters by the 13th.
The match was still level by the time the players left the 15th green but Woods closed out matters with typical aplomb, rolling in a 15 foot putt for a winning birdie at the 16th and then repeating the feat from ten feet for the match on the 17th green.
“I felt like I played pretty good this afternoon,” said Woods. “I didn’t quite hit the ball that well in the morning but I putted all right. Padraig and I both kind of played a bit loose but it was good enough for me to get a win. This afternoon though I felt like I hit the ball really well.”
Courtesy of www.europeantour.com