- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2011

SANDWICH, ENGLAND (AP) - His work done for the day, Darren Clarke trudged into the media center to explain how a portly 42-year-old guy with gray hair was somehow able to escape the wilds of the British Open when a wave of youngsters half his age weren’t nearly as successful.

Before he could, though, Clarke was given a gentle reminder of his rightful place in golf’s new pecking order.

“The last person we expected to see in here was you,” a writer told him.

No worries, because a few days ago Clarke would have thought the same thing. His putting stunk, and he wasn’t exactly feeling good about his game heading into his 20th Open.

His younger countrymen were winning major championships, and Clarke was starting to get the feeling that maybe his time had passed.

Then a session with his shrink changed everything.

Forgetting for a moment that he’s not the Northern Irishman who is supposed to win this Open, Clarke matched his opening round 68 with the same score Friday to move to 4-under-par. It not only put him four shots up on fellow Ulsterman Rory McIlroy, but gave him a share of the lead midway through the championship.

If golf is mostly mental, Clarke could even be considered a favorite going into the weekend. Yes, he’s won only twice in the last eight years, but he’s full of newfound confidence _ which he will need if he is to win the first major title of his long career.

Still, a skeptical writer asked, does he really think he can win?

“Of course I do,” Clarke replied.

You’re not just saying that?

“No, of course I do.”

If Clarke does, maybe he should share the claret jug with Bob Rotella, a prominent sports psychologist who has made a career out of convincing golfers that they’re better than they think. Clarke had a session with Rotella on Wednesday, and just like that the putts began to drop.

Just what Rotella told him will remain between the guy in the chair and the one on the couch. Clarke joked that he pays him too much to share his secret to success.

Whatever it was, it worked. Clarke went out on a windless morning Friday and shook off a double bogey on the fourth hole to play 3-under the rest of the way and get in a tie with Lucas Glover at the top of the leaderboard.

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