Weeks: Clark comes full circle with RBC Canadian Open win

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Bob Weeks
7/27/2014 9:38:59 PM
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Sixteen years ago, Tim Clark got on a plane for a place he'd never heard of before and couldn't find on a map even if he had a GPS.

He'd just won the U.S. Public Links title, graduated from North Carolina State and was embarking on his professional career.

He landed in Moncton to play the New Brunswick Open and without the benefit of a practice round, won the tournament.

A week later, in London, Ont., again without the benefit of a practice round – this time because he'd spent the previous three days celebrating his first win – he did it again, capturing the CPGA Championship.

Those two wins jump-started his pro career and so it was appropriate that the South African golfer returned to Canada to notch another victory, the RBC Canadian Open. This time around, he knew how to get to Montreal although the celebration could be similar.

"The irony of it, it could be the place of my first win and my last," he said, throwing out a little dark humour perhaps pointing to the looming long putter ban in 2016. "That's pretty interesting. To come back here, yeah, full circle, that's 16 years ago when I was just cutting my teeth as a professional."

It seems as if Clark has learned a lot in that period. He put together a sensational Sunday back nine at Royal Montreal to reel in and pass Jim Furyk to earn the victory.

Clark started the day three behind Furyk and was still that many back when they headed for the back nine. But birdies on 11 and 12 got him to within one. Two more birds on the 14th and 15th put him into the lead and standing in the fairway on 18, he was a shot ahead and had the tournament in his hands.
However his approach landed 44 feet from the hole and his first putt wasn't really cozy; he left himself a stomach-turning six feet. But when Furyk missed his 12-foot birdie putt, the 38-year-old Clark made no mistake.

"That was a big swing there," he said, admitting that he was thinking more of the tournaments he'd lost than the ones he'd won while standing over his putt. "I didn't want to have to go into the playoff knowing that he can take it over the water (on 18) and I have to play out to the right."

That's right, chalk up one for the short hitters – Clark averaged just 269 yards off the tee (which made clearing the water on the 18th at Royal Montreal impossible). And give another tick mark to the long putter posse. Clark is a card-carrying member of both outfits and a win from either of those groups is becoming rare these days on the PGA Tour.

"I didn't quite have it with my golf swing or the putter," Clark said of his opening nine holes, "but making the turn I was still only three back so I was still in the tournament and I knew it looked like Jim wasn't going to make any mistakes so I knew I had to make birdies and sometimes that can be easier when you know you have to be aggressive. At that point, [I had] nothing to lose and like I say, I suddenly just got hot and went with it."

Furyk's loss marked the 16th time in his career that he's frittered away a 54-hole lead, including the last seven consecutively. He hasn't won since 2010 and at 44, he will likely have fewer and fewer chances.

"I'm obviously disappointed," he said. "I've got no one to blame but myself. It was a benign day and 69 is not a bad round by any means, and only making two birdies, I let a couple guys back into the tournament that if they go out there and fire a 66 or 67, it's a done deal."

Now Clark is a talented player, but he's been a little short on PGA Tour wins. He's managed to earn $22 million yet this was just his second victory. It took him 206 starts to notch his first win, the Players Championship in 2010, where he also came from three back on the last day. After that he struggled, underwent elbow surgery and missed basically an entire year. And then he had kids and he's also had to worry about what to do with his long putter, which he's used since college.

So it's not a big surprise that he needed another 78 starts to grab the second victory.

But this was a tournament he was exceedingly proud to win, even if he did manage to drop the trophy shortly after it was presented.

"It's certainly one I've wanted to win for a long time," he stated. "Any national open championship to me is special, particularly to those people for their country."

That would include his wife, Candice, who happens to be from Toronto originally.

Clark knows a thing or two about national opens too. While he's short on PGA Tour wins, he does have a handful of national titles, including his own, the South African Open. And he has a Scottish Open and an Australian Open.

Those, of course, go along with that all-important first win, the New Brunswick Open. Full circle indeed.

Tim Clark  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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