Grit, wedge game power Clark past Olesen

Tim Clark used grit and a stellar wedge game to defeat Thorbjorn Olesen at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

Tim Clark used grit and a stellar wedge game to defeat Thorbjorn Olesen at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

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MARANA, Ariz. – Impossible as it sometimes is to ignore the constant moans and groans of those who think that power has overtaken the pro golf game, the proper answer is to cruise along and watch an in-form Tim Clark.

He proves time after time that grit goes further than any golf ball that has ever been made.

Clark oozes the stuff and for the latest installment, we take you to the back nine at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain and Clark’s second-round match against Thorbjorn Olesen in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Having won the seventh and eighth holes with birdies and the 10th when the Dane sprayed his tee ball into the desert right, Clark was 3 up, but hardly at ease. Up ahead were par 5s (11 and 13) and par 4s (14 and 15) that he knew would play into Olesen’s strength.

“Those par 5s, I can’t reach,” Clark said. “And a guy like him is getting there. So I had to be pretty precise with where I laid it up.”

In other words, Clark would try and manage the golf course, not overpower it. He would trust his wedge game.

“It’s what he does,” said Clark’s caddie, Steve Underwood. And the greater truth is, few do it better and with a better demeanor than the diminutive 37-year-old South African. In fact, on a day in which 16 second-round matches featured stunning upsets and dramatic finishes, Clark’s 3-and-2 win over Olesen earned high praise from caddies and players sitting around the clubhouse.

What happened at the 11th is one reason why.

Having pushed his drive into the right rough, Clark was some 45 yards behind Olesen, who poured it into the heart of the fairway. Negotiating a clever fairway wood shot out of thick grass, Clark laid up to about 115 yards, then watched the 23-year-old Danish kid slam his second shot to the front of the green.

So brilliant was Clark’s wedge shot from 113 yards that he was tighter than Olesen, who had only a little pitch shot from two yards off the green. Each player made birdie from just about 3 feet, so the lead remained in Clark’s favor, 3 up.

When Olesen curled in a 15-footer for birdie at the par-3 12th, he trailed by two and had a reachable, 583-yard par-5 13th on deck. But if you could sense that the moment was turning the Dane’s way, you don’t know Clark, especially when he’s striking it well and he executes his gameplan.

At the 13th, for instance, he conceded about 20-25 yards off the tee to Olesen, who from 275 yards would have a go at the green. Clark? Everything came down to placing his second shot in the ideal spot.

“If you’re not coming in from the (proper) angle, you just don’t have a golf shot,” he said.

At 13, the best place to be was down the left side, for it opened up a clear shot at a hole location cut back left. It was textbook, Clark’s ball coming to rest so that he had just 60 yards in. He knocked that wedge to 6 feet and after Olesen’s bunker shot to a foot was conceded for a birdie, Clark calmly answered.

His fourth birdie in seven holes, three of them par 5s set up by brilliant wedge play, kept Clark in command.

“I played my wedges great today,” Clark said. “That’s what I had to do, against guys like that on this golf course. I have to be on my game with my wedges.”

Clark, who went to 3 up when he stuffed his approach from 180 yards to 3 feet at the 445-yard 14th, closed out Olesen at the par-3 16th to set up a third-round game with Ian Poulter. Having played those 16 holes in 4 under, he made it into the third round of this tournament for the third time.

There has been a two-year break from this tournament, of course, as a lengthy battle with an elbow injury pretty much spoiled his world ranking in 2011 and 2012.

But when he got healthy in mid-2012, Clark rolled off the solid performances – fourth at the Travelers, T-15 in Canada, T-11 at the PGA, second at Wyndham and T-10 at The Barclays. When he started 2013 with a runner-up at Sony, Clark was back inside the top 64, back in a tournament that seemingly always matches his grit against an opponent’s power.

That he has taken down the likes of Retief Goosen and Tiger Woods (in 2009) and Vijay Singh and Martin Kaymer (2010) speaks volumes for Clark’s spirit, and now he has dispatched the formidable Adam Scott and the rising star from Denmark, Olesen.

Crazy thing is, though, already this week it’s been a tale of two styles. Wednesday and then Thursday when the first-round match was concluded, Clark struggled mightily; the only thing is, Scott played poorly. “I didn’t feel good at all,” Clark said of his 2-up victory in cold and snowy conditions. “I don’t know what it was.”

But against Olesen, Clark was in vintage form, his lone bogey at the par-4 fifth costing him an early lead. No worries, because he birdied the par-4 seventh, then the par-5 eighth and even as Olesen found a bit of form, Clark had the answers.

His grit.

Oh, and his wedges.

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