Clarke joins elite club on 500th appearance
THE new slimline Darren Clarke clocks up tournament number 500 on the European Tour when he tees off in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in Doha which starts today.
A weight-training routine and a low carb/no sugar/no alcohol diet has given the 45-year-old a new shape and a new impetus as he bids to improve his world ranking of 277.
Clarke's appearance in Doha means he becomes the fourth Irishman to attain the 500 mark on the European Tour. Eamonn Darcy, with 610 appearances, heads the list and is followed by Des Smyth (594) and Paul McGinley (545).
Clarke will tee off in one of the marquee groups alongside Miguel Angel Jiminez and last year's winner Chris Wood. The big man from Dungannnon is joined by seven other Irish players in Qatar - Shane Lowry, Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie, Michael Hoey, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin and Simon Thornton.
Lowry, 27 in April, opened his sixth season as a professional in Abu Dhabi last week but emerged with the proverbial 'nul points' after a missed cut. That was a relatively minor setback at this early stage of the season but the 85th-ranked player in the world expects better of himself in Doha. The tournament starts a day earlier than normal due to a public holiday in Qatar.
Pablo Larrazabal, who pipped Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickleson to win in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, hopes to continue his fine form but there are plenty of top players - particularly Henrik Stenson - who want to atone for a slow start last week.
Stenson, winner of the FedEx Cup in the USA and the European Tour's Race to Dubai last year, was among the also-rans who missed the cut in Abu Dhabi.
Despite his weekend off, Stenson, the current world number three, is among the tournament favourites, as is Sergio Garcia. Stenson won at Doha in 2006 and also has three runner-up finishes at the venue, a record he would like to extend.
"It's been a good hunting ground for me and it feels like I'm slowly waking up here after the winter break," he said. "Last week was not quite what we wanted, we had limited preparations and it feels like I'm starting to hit the ball a bit better. Hopefully I can play a bit better this week."
Meanwhile, on the amateur scene, Ireland will have four golfers - Stuart Grehan (Tullamore), Stephen Healy (Claremorris), Jessica Carty (Holwood) and Chloe Ryan (Castletroy) - playing in the South American amateur championship at Barranquilla Country Club. The 72-hole strokes event starts today and finishes on Saturday.
Carty and Ryan are two of the best players in the country and the ILGU hopes to add to its talent base by offering young girls a chance to sample golf. The union is inviting all girls under 12 who have an interest in playing golf to attend Development Taster Sessions being held at centres in Mayo, Down, Dublin and Cork in February.
No previous experience is necessary and girls will be invited to "give golf a go" and interact with an ILGU Regional Coach.
All attendees wishing to continue will be offered a place in a coaching group for sessions during March and April. For more details see www.ilgu.ie.
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