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Harrington pips Clarke for Cisco Matchplay invite

Darren Clarke expressed his disappointment at not making the field for The Cisco world Matchplay Championship being held in Wentworth from October 14th through 17th. Clarke is determined to be the leading Irishman on the European Tour yet again this season.

Clarke was expected to make the field following Lee Westwood's decision to opt out but the spot went instead to compatriot and European Ryder Cup team-mate, Padraig Harrington. While Clarke was at pains to point out that Harrington fully deserved the invite given his recent performances at Brookline and on the Volvo Tour, he was somewhat surprised at the inclusion of one or two of the lesser known invitee, such as Australian Craig Parry and American Notah Begay.

Harrington, striking a rich vein of form over the last couple of months, lies currently 6th in the Volvo Order of Merit, one place ahead of Clarke with only $52,000 between them. Together with his sudden-death defeat by Garcia in the German Masters, Harrington has now finished runner-up four times this season, including the Italian Open, West of Ireland Classic and the BMW International, which got him onto the Ryder team. He has also finished fourth in both the Malaysian Open and Turespana Masters and sixth in the German Open. Harrington has one tour win to date, the 1996 Spanish Open, won in his rookie year.

Clarke, for his part, has had an up and down season. Poor early form was rejuvenated by an impressive win in the Compass Group English. He followed that by producing arguably the greatest round in European Tour history when he equaled the record low round of 60 in the Smurfit European Open at the K Club, host venue of the 2005 Ryder Cup Matches. His 12 birdies equaled the record birdies in a round and he also equaled the record of eight consecutive birdies. He followed that round with a hole in one the following day and looked destined to become the first Irishman to win on home soil until his close friend and management stablemate Lee Westwood surged strongly to pip him at the post.

At Brookline, Clarke had a 2-3-0 record but did not play to his true potential. In 1998, he strongly contested the Order of Merit with Colin Montgomery, winning the Volvo Masters in Spain, but it proved insufficient to wrest the title away from the mercurial Scot who won it for a record sixth successive year. To signify his determination to remain Ireland's premier golfer in 1999, Clarke will instead play in the Smurfit Irish Professional Championships at the excellent Island course in north Dublin next week and will also add an additional fixture to his year-end schedule, the Belgacom Open, the following week.

As for the Cisco Matchplay tourney, Harrington is a noted matchplayer with three Walker Cup appearances under his belt, a great singles victory over Mark O'Meara in Brookline, as well as success in the World Cup with Paul McGinley at Kiawah Island in 1997. Sure, he will have stiff competition particularly in the form of Colin Montgomery, defending champ and a vengeful Mark O'Meara, Nick Price, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ernie Els, not forgetting the stars of 1999 in America and Europe respectively, Carlos Santos and Sergio Garcia. But, coupled with good old Irish luck, as outside bets go, you could do a lot worse than putting a little wager on Harrington next weekend.

Full Cisco Matchplay Line-Up:

Mark O'Meara (USA), Colin Montgomerie (Sco), Ernie Els (Rsa), Nick Price (Zim), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Carlos Franco (Par), Jose Maria Olazabal (Spa), Craig Parry (Aus), Paul Lawrie (Sco), Retief Goosen (Bel), Padraig Harrington (Ire), Notah Begay III (USA).

The draw for the Championship will take place at Wentworth on Tuesday October 12, at 11 a.m.


©Ronan Farren, Calfornia, October 1999