Clarke among leaders at dunhill links championship
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Clarke, who is looking to unseat Ernie Els at the top of the Order of Merit with a strong finish at this event which is contested over three prestigious courses, was one shot off the lead after taking on Carnoustie on Thursday.
The Ulsterman took to the Old Course at St. Andrews on Friday and was quick out of the gate.
He played the back side first and picked up two birdies over his first three holes. Clarke added a birdie at the 16th to reach eight-under but found trouble with a bogey at the 18th.
Clarke's problems continued around the turn with a bogey at the second but he was able to respond with a birdie at the very next hole.
While the leaders stumbled, Clarke took advantage down the stretch and finished with two birdies over his last three holes to move into a share of the lead.
"I played okay again today," said Clarke. "I made a couple of silly mistakes and left a few shots out there but overall, at nine-under par for the tournament at this stage, I'm pretty pleased with and it has put me in a decent position going into the next couple of rounds."
Howell played Kingsbarns on Friday and collected four birdies on the front side to make the turn at nine-under.
The Englishman added a birdie at the 12th but faltered with a bogey at the 13th. At the par-five 16th, Howell two-putted for a birdie to return to minus-10. He found trouble again with a bogey at the 17th, however, en route to a round of 68.
Peter Lawrie also played Kingsbarns and collected five birdies and a bogey for a 68 of his own.
"I just haven't gotten off to a good start in any of the tournaments I have played previously to this and I found myself behind the eight ball all the time," said the Irishman Lawrie. "But this week I am far more relaxed."
While Clarke is making a push for the money title, Els, who currently tops the list, put together a brilliant performance on the Old Course to finish two shots off the pace.
The South African fired a 65 to finish alongside Soren Hansen, Simon Yates, Raphael Jacquelin, Mark McNulty, Maarten Lafeber and Henrik Stenson at seven- under-par 137.
"I did have it going but turning into that wind on the last few holes, you need to hit good shots and I didn't," said Hansen, who held a three-shot lead at one point before collapsing down the stretch. "But I am still in with a good chance as there is a lot of golf left to be played in this tournament and anything can happen."
PGA Tour money leader Vijay Singh was one shot further back in a group at six- under-par 138 in a group that features Nick Price, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
"I have goals all the time and getting back into the top-100 in the World Rankings would be a short term one," said Westwood. "I'm 111th at the moment. You never know what's round the corner, though."
Defending champion Padraig Harrington responded in the second round with a 69 to finish in a tie for 38th at three-under-par 141.
Harrington is in good position to survive the 54-hole cut which will come after Saturday's third round.