Clarke escapes Woods to claim NEC title

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2003

AKRON, Ohio Put Darren Clarke in the final pairing of a World Golf Championship, and nobody can stop him least of all, Tiger Woods.

Clarke joined Woods as the only multiple winners of the WGC series, building a five-shot lead and then turning back a brief challenge from the world's No. 1 player to win the NEC Invitational and a $1.05 million payoff.

Clarke, a 35-year-old from Northern Ireland, closed with a 3-under 67 at Firestone for a four-stroke victory over Jonathan Kaye.

It was the second time in four years that Clarke left Woods in his wake at a WGC event. He also beat him in the 36-hole final of the 2000 Match Play Championship, 4 and 3, for his only other PGA Tour victory.

Woods, a winner the last three times at Firestone, bogeyed three of his last seven holes and closed with a 70, six strokes behind.

Still, he was the only player to give Clarke a serious fight.

Hitting the ball clean, walking with more purpose down the fairways, Woods made back-to-back birdies approaching the turn to narrow the deficit to two shots.

Clarke was fearless as ever.

He birdied three of five holes starting with an 8-footer at No. 9 and finishing the stretch from 55 feet on the 13th to restore his big cushion and allow himself a comfortable journey along the back nine.

Clarke finished at 12-under 268, the first European to win on the PGA Tour this year.

Kaye, who won for the first time two months ago in the Buick Classic, played in the final pairing with Clarke and started only one stroke behind. The deficit was four after the second hole, and Kaye never got any closer.

The $550,000 check for second place pushed Kaye over $2 million for the season.

Davis Love III closed with a 69 to finish third at 273, and expanded his lead on the PGA Tour money list over Woods to more than $400,000.

Chris Riley (71) joined Woods at 274.

A dozen players were within five shots of Clarke when the final round began under another day of blazing sunshine.

It didn't take long for it to turn into a two-man race.

Clarke holed a 12-foot eagle putt on the second hole to build a three-stroke lead, and he led by as many as five shots on the front nine.

Woods at least made him work for it.

Despite several good birdie chances that got away a three-putt par from 18 feet on No. 2, birdie putts from inside 10 feet on Nos. 5 and 6 Woods found his range from the fairway, and back-to-back birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 took him to 9 under.

Clarke made bogey from the bunker on No. 5, and suddenly his lead was down to two.

This wasn't anything like the Match Play Championship, as Woods was playing in the pairing ahead of Clarke. Still, there were enough cheers that both players had a pretty good idea what was going on.

Clarke never buckled.

He holed an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to match Woods' outward score of 32, then effectively ended the tournament with another 8-foot birdie on No. 11.

Wachovia Classic

KUTZTOWN, Pa. Candie Kung overcame a slow start and shot a 2-under-par 70 for a two-stroke victory over defending champion Se Ri Pak and Meg Mallon at the Wachovia LPGA Classic.

Kung finished at 14-under 274 for her second title of the season. She won the Takefuji Classic in Las Vegas in April.

Allianz Championship

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa Don Pooley pulled away from a six-man scramble with an eagle on No. 11 and went on to shoot a 4-under 67 to win the Allianz Championship by three strokes.

U.S. Amateur

OAKMONT, Pa. Nick Flanagan became the latest out-of-nowhere winner in this summer of golfing surprises, wasting a four-hole lead before rallying to win the first playoff hole and upset Casey Wittenberg in the U.S. Amateur final.

Flanagan never trailed in the 37-hole match, but the top-ranked Wittenberg an overwhelming favorite won two of the final four holes during the afternoon round, including No. 18, to force the playoff.

Flanagan is the first Australian to win the Amateur in 100 years.

Reno-Tahoe Open

RENO, Nev. Kirk Triplett shot a 9-under-par 63 to win the Reno-Tahoe Open at 17-under par, tying both the course and tournament records with a three-stroke victory over Tim Herron.

Triplett, who played his college golf at the University of Nevada, Reno, charged from behind with nine birdies four in a row on the front nine to claim only his second victory in 14 years on the PGA Tour.

Herron shot a 71 to finish second at 14-under 274.

The $540,000 first-place check pushes Triplett's career winnings past the $10 million mark. He tied the course record of 63 that Notah Begay III set in winning the inaugural Reno Tahoe-Open in 1999 the record was tied by Brian Henninger the following year.

His total of 17-under 271 for the tourney tied the mark John Cook set in 2001 that record was equaled last year by Chris Riley and Jonathan Kaye before Riley won in a playoff.

Triplett's first PGA win was at the Nissan Open in 2000.

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