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At 52, Darren Clarke has enough mileage on his career to know that the work is only halfway done if he’s to hoist a trophy on Sunday at the Senior British Open. A 67 on Friday at Sunningdale Golf Club (Old) in Berkshire, England, propelled the Northern Irishman and 2011 British Open champion to 8-under 132 at the midway point of the championship and a one-stroke lead over Germany’s Bernhard Langer and American Jerry Kelly.
“Just made good swings all the way coming in and kept giving myself opportunities,” he said. “Pleased that I finished on 8-under because the wind was swirling about a little bit.”
Clarke, who finished T-10 at his first Senior Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes two years ago, is making sure he doesn’t get ahead of himself in his quest to become just the fourth player to win both the British Open and Senior British Open.
“We’re all long enough in the tooth to know this is only two rounds and a lot of golf to be played yet. I would love to have this trophy sitting behind the Claret Jug. Got to go work on some iron play, my iron play wasn’t there especially around the front nine today but other than that drove the ball well,” he said. “Really (would like to be) in the mix come Sunday afternoon and would love to improve.”
Clarke has company from a couple Hall of Fame stalwarts as well as the leader in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup. Kelly, who won the American Family Insurance Championship and has finished outside the top-8 finishers once in his last eight starts, eagled the first hole on Friday and made four birdies en route to shooting 66.
“The putter was suspect and I kept on trying to do something, do something, and then finally the last four holes, I kept my head down, which you know I’m not known for,” Kelly said.
It worked and it was good enough to tie Langer, who continues to defy his age and contend for senior majors, for second at 7-under 133. The 63-year-old Langer already has collected a record 11 senior majors, and shows no signs of slowing down. He shot 67 on Friday, and said he’d be ready for rain and more wind on the weekend.
“Just plug along. It’s going to be miserable at times when it’s rainy and windy and all that but hey we’ve been there before,” he said. “Just try and make the best of it.”
Langer has done that and then some at the British Senior. In 12 previous starts, Langer has 11 top 10s, four wins and three runner-up finishes.
South African Ernie Els is tied for fourth at 6-under 134 with England’s Paul Broadhurst. While this is Els’ first Senior Open Championship, he always has thrived at playing links golf, winning the Open in 2002 at Muirfield and again in 2012 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. He also has three runner-up finishes at the British and 11 total top 10s.
“It was a little bit more difficult today, a little trickier,” he said. “I feel like what I’m working on is kind of coming through a little bit. But Darren is a great frontrunner, played really well today, so got a lot of work to do.”
Els could also join elite company – with Gary Player, Bob Charles and Tom Watson – as the only players to win both the British and Senior British Opens. Asked when he starts thinking about winning a tournament, Els answered, “Hopefully on the last putt. I’m just trying to stay in it. I haven’t quite got my old game there, so I’m really fighting hard to stay in it. Darren seems like he’s striking it nice. I’m trying to stay in touch with him. Stay there until Sunday afternoon and then whatever happens, hopefully Sunday I can think about that but not right now.”