DARREN CLARKE is nursing blistered heels but he is determined not to let the pain hamper his efforts to salve wounded pride at the Thailand Golf Championship.
Clarke scaled his Everest by winning last year's British Open but his form has fallen off since then, a run of 14 missed cuts and zero top-10 finishes in 30 world-ranked events causing him to plummet more than 100 rungs down the global ladder to 139th.
In 2012, the Ulsterman has earned a pay-cheque at just nine of 20 tournaments as he searched in vain to find the inner peace which was such a big part of his victory at Royal St George's.
Still, there were glimmers of redemption for Clarke yesterday as he defied heat, humidity and those blisters to open with a two-under-par 70 at this $1m Asian Tour event. That left him sharing 21st place with defending champion Lee Westwood.
Westwood and Clarke trailed leader Charl Schwartzel by five after South Africa's 2011 US Masters champion underscored his recent recovery from a chest injury with a splendid, bogey-free 65.
Schwartzel, runner-up to Westwood last year, led young Thai Thitiphun Chuayprakong by one. Last April's Augusta Master Bubba Watson was three back in a share of fifth after a characteristically eventful 68 which included an eagle three, six birdies and four bogeys.
Sergio Garcia sent a frisson of excitement around the course as he sped to five-under through 11 holes, but the Spaniard had to settle for a 69 after a double-bogey six on 16.
Clarke also started well, picking up shots on the first two holes but he bogeyed five and, after a birdie at seven, dropped another shot at the short eighth to turn in one-under.
He hung in on the way home, picking up shots at the par-five 11th and the 13th. Yet he bogeyed the floating par-three 17th and lip-out with a birdie attempt at the last.
The first round of the 2013 European Tour season had to be postponed until today – no play was possible in the Nelson Mandela Championship because Royal Durban was waterlogged.
Thailand Golf Championship,
Live, Sky Sports 2, 6.30am
Nelson Mandela Championship,
Live, Sky Sports 2, 8.30am