Clarke the unlikely Irish contender as Westwood fades away

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The hype may have surrounded Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell before the Open, but Darren Clarke has stormed ahead of his countrymen to establish himself as Northern Ireland’s leading contender at Sandwich.

A second consecutive round of 68 saw Clarke into the clubhouse with a healthy midway score of four-under-par, and saw his odds of winning the Open move to 14/1.

But Lee Westwood, who was touted by many to claim his first major at these championships, looked set to miss the cut as he slipped to four-over-par, two shots off the cut mark.

For Clarke, however, the turnaround in fortunes came as a more pleasing surprise.

In a topsy-turvy round, Clarke struck five birdies and an eagle courtesy of a monumental 70-yard putt on the seventh hole, though the 42-year-old also dropped shots on four occasions.

Joining Clarke on four-under-par was former US Open champion Lucas Glover, who is also priced at 14/1 to lift the Claret Jug on Sunday.

There was steady progress, meanwhile, for Chad Campbell, who is a somewhat tempting outside bet at 25/1.

But the big surprise from the early action on Friday was Westwood’s wayward second round, which saw him drift out to odds of 40/1 to win the Open.

Particularly costly for the former world number one was a double-bogey on the eighth followed by another bogey on the next hole.

Westwood was on the brink when he reached the 17th hole on four-over-par and, despite entering the Open with such high hopes, the Englishman faced an unexpected early exit.

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