By Brian Keogh
Darren Clarke won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai by two strokes from Retief Goosen for his second straight PGA TOUR Champions victory, playing the back nine in six-under in a closing eight-under 64.
The 52-year-old former Open Championship winner started the back-nine run with birdies at the 10th and 11th, added two more at the 13th and 14th, made a 10-foot par save at the 15th, then birdied the 16th and made a 45 footer for another at the 17th.
"Just to win, to get in the winners and to win again is certainly very gratifying," Clarke said after he parred the 18th to cap the bogey-free round in the first event of the year and pocket $310,000 (€254,000).
“I love the Champions Tour. The guys have been so good to me out here since I've been out here, so welcoming. And the standard is so high, just it's incredible. The guys really flat out can play. I've been fortunate these past couple tournaments."
Clarke finished at 21-under 195 at Hualalai Golf Course. He won the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida, in early November in his final tour start last year.
"I sort of broke through in Boca as you know and I sort of liked the feeling of that, Clarke said. "But down in Abaco straight after, I couldn't play Phoenix, had to go down to Abaco.
“Went down there with my group of mates down there, GFY Group. We play all the time. I give them lots of shots and all that sort of stuff and just keeping me competitive. I worked and practiced nearly every day from the break."
Goosen, tied for the second-round lead with Jerry Kelly, closed with a 64 to finish second.
The two-time U.S. Open champion took the first-round lead with a 62, then bogeyed the final two Friday in a 71.
"It was a good week," Goosen said. "I've not played since, when was it, November we last played. So got off to a great start and yesterday killed me. That's the thing about the Champions Tour, you've got to put three rounds together, otherwise you're not going to make it. Today I gave it a good run, but Clarkie behind me played awesome."
Clarke was thrilled with his performance, especially with the putter, as he kept pace with Goosen and eventually passed him.
“Yeah, I could see everything Goose was doing, so every time he was making a birdie, I was having to try and follow him, make another birdie right on top of him playing behind him,” he said. “But that's brilliant, that's why we play the game. We play for the competition, we play to put ourselves in position that we want to win, that's why we want to do it.”
Fred Couples shot a 67 to tie for fourth at 15 with Scott Parel (66), Kevin Sutherland (67) and Mike Weir (66). The 61-year-old Couples shot a 63 on Friday.
The tournament was the first of the year, but the season is a continuation from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the tour for four months.
Clarke’s biggest worry now is travel in and out of the US.
“I know we may have an issue with immigration and going back to the Bahamas now on Monday and it depends on coronavirus, what the U.S. are going to do,” he said.
“So hopefully, I know the PGA Tour and everybody on the Tour are working diligently to try and see what can be done, but hopefully they'll come to a very good resolution because they've been very good to us so far. I just can't wait to get back out and play again.”