Clarke hits form to lead at Loch Lomond

Luss: Darren Clarke stole the limelight from his younger Northern Irish compatriot Graeme McDowell on Thursday as he charged into the Scottish Open first round lead.

U.S. Open champion McDowell had marked his return to tournament golf with a level-par 71 in the morning but Clarke`s unblemished 65 later earned him a one-shot lead over the field.

Pre-tournament favourite Phil Mickelson did not make the best of starts in his bid to become world number one after this event. The world number two ran up a double-bogey on the 14th and had to settle for a 71.

Italian Edoardo Molinari, putting in a concerted effort to get into Ryder Cup reckoning with his sibling Francesco, is tied for second place with Briton Graeme Storm and Ireland`s Damien McGrane. Double major champion John Daly is in a group two shots off the pace with exciting Japanese youngster Ryo Ishikawa.

Clarke is looking for his 13th tour title after two years struggling with his game, especially his putting. Hard work and determination have kept him going, he said.

He has also had encouragement from his younger compatriots McDowell and U.S. tour winner Rory McIlroy, both of whom he has mentored in the past.

"I`ve been delighted to see the two of them playing as well as they have and they`ve returned the compliment, telling me to keep working at it," 41-year-old Clarke told reporters.

Former Ryder Cup player Clarke, who came close to earning a wild-card in 2008, admitted he had even considered giving up golf when his game had dipped so woefully. "The red stool in the Harbour Bar at Portrush was looking good," joked Clarke.

He has a double goal. Victory or a place in the top five on Sunday night of those not already exempt for next week`s British Open will earn him a St Andrews start.

Clarke was not the only one to show some vintage form with 1995 British Open winner Daly turning back the clock with a 67.

Invariably talk with the colourful American comes down to money and how much he owes.

Daly said he still owed the U.S. government`s Internal Revenue Service $1 million, largely because of losing sponsorships three years ago.

"It`s a struggle but I`m working it out," he told reporters. "I`m not broke but I have to get that settlement done (with the IRS) and move on."

Bureau Report

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