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GOLF Clarke cruises to early lead



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Peter Lonard and Patrick Sheehan are six strokes back of Clarke.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Darren Clarke brought a little color to the MCI Classic on Friday -- and it wasn't just his mustard yellow pants.

Clarke's second straight 65 gave him a six-stroke lead and left him at 12-under 130, his career-best for 36 holes and one shot off the tournament record set by Jack Nicklaus in 1975 and tied by Phil Mickelson three years ago.

Clarke, ranked 17th in the world, is one of the few recognizable names in the field with Masters champion Tiger Woods and the rest of the Big Four (Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Mickelson) taking the week off.

The native of Northern Ireland, chomping a cigar and laughing with the crowd, showed how much he loved being at Harbour Town Golf Links.

"I knew I liked the golf course and that's why I've kept coming back," he said. "It's easier to play on a golf course you're comfortable on than one that you're not. I'm enjoying myself and playing pretty solid golf."

Clarke was one of the few who moved forward as swirling, unpredictable winds blew many competitors with flashy, first-round scores back in the field.

Australian Peter Lonard had flirted with 59 late in his opening round before finishing with a career-best 62 to lead by two shots. He ballooned to a 74 on Friday and was tied for second with Patrick Sheehan, who had a second-round 70.

Thomas Levet, who put up a 64 in the first round, also had a 74 and was eight shots off the lead.

In all, Harbour Town played more than a stroke harder than it did Thursday even with wall-to-wall sunshine.

"A couple of people on the way in said it's a much nicer day," Sheehan said. "I think it's a prettier day but it's not an easier day to play golf."

The dry, sunny conditions -- not seen in the nine tournaments this year that faced some sort of weather delay -- have firmed up Harbour Town's small greens, Lonard said, making it nearly impossible to get it close.

"I was sort of thinking if I could shoot par or better, it was a pretty good score," Lonard said.

He was on his way to doing that, reaching 10 under with six holes to go. Then Lonard bogeyed four of the next five holes.

"That didn't do me any favors," he said.

LPGA

LAS VEGAS -- Wendy Ward had a scrambling 68 and took a three-shot lead through two rounds of the Takefuji Classic.

Ward, looking for her fourth LPGA victory and first in nearly four years, was at 11-under 133.

Karrie Webb, who shared the opening-round lead with Ward, had a 71 and was tied for second with Moira Dunn, who is winless in 10 years on the tour. Dunn had a 5-under 67 in the second round.

Amateur In-Bee Park, a 16-year-old South Korean and Las Vegas high school junior, had a 71 that left her in a group four shots off the lead.

Spanish Open

SAN ROQUE, Spain -- Peter Hanson overtook Peter Gustafsson with a 4-under round of 68 Friday to move a stroke ahead of his fellow Swede in the second round of the Spanish Open.

Hanson rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the last hole to break a tie with Gustafsson, who shot a 69. Hanson was 6-under and Gustafsson was 5-under after two rounds.

Gregory Bourda of France, a first-year tour player, also had a 68 Friday and shared third place at 3-under with Peter Lawrie of Ireland, who carded a 70 in the second round.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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