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Clarke Thows Net Over Tiger


Darren Clarke beat Tiger Woods at his favorite game Sunday in the Match Play Championship. And he didn't need any tips from Woods' coach.

As the sun rose over La Costa Resort about an hour before the 36-hole final, Clarke lit the first of many cigars, glanced at the other end of the practice range and found Butch Harmon quietly observing the No. 1 player in the world.

"Hey Butchy," Clarke playfully called out to the swing coach of both finalists. "I don't need you. I'm hitting it perfect."

Woods found that out the hard way.

Before Woods could even dream about a sweep of the World Golf Championships, Clarke buried him with a barrage of birdies in the afternoon round for a 4 and 3 victory and a $1 million payoff, nearly four times greater than he had ever won in a single tournament.

This was about much more than money, though.

"Any time you win a tournament it's fantastic," Clarke said. "But to play against Tiger, the No. 1 player in the world, and to come out on top - it's a great feeling."

It capped an incredible weekend for the 31-year-old from Northern Ireland, who took down in succession Ryder Cup star Hal Sutton, second-ranked David Duval and then the biggest gun of them all with near flawless play.

Clarke made 12 birdies to just one bogey over 33 holes, hit all but one fairway and didn't miss a green over his final 17 holes. The only time he trailed in the match was on the third hole of the morning, and he got that right back with a birdie on the next hole.

"Darren just flat outplayed me," Woods said after perhaps his worst loss ever in match play, dropping his professional record to 12-4. "Darren has played like this all week. All you have to do is look at the stats to see how beautifully he's played."

All anyone really had to do was look on the range.

After they finished the morning round even, Clarke went to the dining room for lunch, then to the putting green for another cigar and a few laughs.

Woods, despite matching Clarke's six birdies in the morning, grabbed a quick bite and went straight to the range. Harmon stood behind him and held out his hand, catching Woods' elbow whenever his swing plane drifted too far inside.

Why wasn't Clarke at the range?

"He didn't want to go to the range because he would have had to walk back up that hill again," Harmon said.

Clarke saved his strength to walk all over Woods.

He never trailed since the fourth hole in the morning, then birdied four out of five holes on the front nine in afternoon to go 4-up with 10 holes to play, a deficit not even Woods was able to overcome.
"He was fantastic today," Harmon said. "He looked Tiger right in the eye and said, 'I'm going to kick your butt.' And he kicked it."

Clarke became the first international player to win a WGC event and kept Woods, who earned $500,000, from adding the Walter Hagen Cup to his other two WGC titles won at Firestone and Valderrama.

And it also thrust Clarke, who won for the sixth time worldwide, into the spotlight as another European star with a bright future. While Colin Montgomerie has won seven straight money titles in Europe, he still hasn't won on American soil against the best fields in golf.

Clarke and Lee Westwood, who won in New Orleans two years ago, are known as the "Spice Boys" in the British press because of their penchant for fast cars and good times.

For Clarke, the best thrill of all was beating a field of the top 64 players in the world even though he didn't realize the final round was 36 holes until he left the course Saturday night.

"To play as well as that under the circumstances, against the best player in the world, is certainly very gratifying," he said.

Duval waited one round too many to play solid golf, having missed out on his anticipated showdown with Woods by losing to Clarke in the semifinals. In the consolation match, he birdied six of his last seven holes for a 5 and 4 victory over Davis Love III.

Duval won $400,000, while Love earned $300,000.

Woods had lost only 13 out of his first 100 holes in the Match Play, sponsored by Andersen Consulting. That changed with shocking swiftness as Clarke birdied Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8 to build a 4-up lead.

Clarke, however, didn't start thinking of ways to spend his $1 million. Woods had come back from six holes down to beat Trip Kuehne in the 1994 U.S. Amateur, five holes down to beat Steve Scott in the 1996 Amateur, and seven strokes down with seven holes to play to beat Matt Gogel at Pebble Beach three weeks ago.

"He doesn't get to this level without good reason," Clarke said. "I was expecting Tiger to do a couple of special things."

But Woods was running out of holes, and he ran out of comebacks.

After a winning the par-5 ninth with a two-putt birdie, he three-putted from 30 feet to lose the 10th. After hitting his tee shot to 2 feet on No. 11 for another birdie, all momentum came to a stop on the par-5 12th.

Woods was in a greenside bunker in two, in great position to win the hole and shave the margin to only 2-up. But trying to hit it close to the hole, he caught his bunker shot heavy and stayed in the sand. Then he missed a 4-foot par putt, and Clarke was bac in control.

"It's a fantastic way to start the season with a win over the best player in the world," Clarke said. "Hopefully, this will be a stepping stone for me."

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