He's fit to be tied

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

Darren Clarke is looking for the payoff.

For the first time in his life, he has sacrificed bits of his flamboyant lifestyle in the name of physical fitness.

He has worked diligently on his game. He has engaged a sports psychologist to deal with golf's complex mental demands.

FRUSTRATING

"Yeah, I've done everything right and what's going on?" Clarke asked rhetorically yesterday after shooting a 67 to share the first-round lead at The Tour Championship.

"I haven't won anywhere, so that has been very, very frustrating. You know, I've worked on a lot of different aspects this year, both fitness and swing wise, but so far it hasn't all come together at the same time.

"I've had a poor year."

He could make up for that in a big way by beating this elite 31-man field at soggy East Lake Country Club, here in Atlanta.

He is tied with Jay Haas and Jerry Kelly heading into today's second round.

David Toms and rookie Zach Johnson are one shot back at 68 while eight players, including Canadians Mike Weir and Stephen Ames are at one-under 69. Popular John Daly and world No. 1 Vijay Singh are also in that group two shots behind the leaders.

Tiger Woods and Ernie Els struggled to two-over 72s, while Phil Mickelson is at one-over 71.

Clarke's belly no longer hangs over his belt buckle and he can walk 36 holes a day without so much as breaking a sweat. But he also is a guy accustomed to winning golf tournaments -- 13 of them worldwide -- until this year.

He was a tower of strength in the European Ryder Cup victory this fall, easily the highlight of his year. But it sticks in his craw that he has attempted to address all these personal issues and has failed to crack the winner's circle.

He was asked if he's yet ready to chuck the lifestyle changes and go back to his old, swashbuckling ways.

"I've been tempted a few times but, no, not yet," he said.

Haas, approaching his 51st birthday, continues to play some of the best golf of his life.

"Just being in the locker room with these guys is thrilling to me," he said. "I find it hard to believe I played well enough to earn a spot in this field. This is the major leagues and this is where we want to be. As long as I remain competitive, this is where I want to be."

Yesterday's round went off on time despite rainfall that measured 1 1/2 inches in the early morning. It stopped raining barely an hour before the first players teed off.

Many players expected the PGA Tour to play lift, clean and place because of the wet conditions but they played the ball as it lay and that made for a lot of wayward mud-ball shots.

"It made for a lot of interesting shots," Tiger Woods said. "But, hey, it's the 30 best players this year, so why not play the ball down?"

Ames and Weir will be playing in back-to-back pairings today. Weir and Steve Flesch are scheduled at 12:19 and Ames will play with Stuart Appleby at 12:10.


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