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Clarke shaping up for future battles


Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke

STEVE STRICKER'S heroics in Hawaii should put added spring in the step of Darren Clarke as the 43-year-old Ulsterman endures the second week of his latest fitness kick.

Open champion Clarke has vowed to follow the Lee Westwood path to peak conditioning, hiring a sports scientist as his personal trainer in an effort to make the utmost of his next five years on the Tour. Clarke's pursuit of physical perfection even brought him to an eye specialist and he had to take some stick from his pals after appearing in public wearing glasses for the first time last week.

One suspects that Clarke, modern golf's most famous bon-viveur, will find it tough to forego the few pints and cut down on his cherished cheroots... yet Stricker's comprehensive victory at the Hyundai Champions on Monday might help him resist temptation.

Stricker is the new poster boy for players in their 40s. Six weeks shy of his 45th birthday, he offers a perfect example of precisely how far a successful golf career can be stretched simply by taking care of oneself.

Indeed, the Wisconsin man is widely fancied to win this weekend's Sony Open in Honolulu and become the first player since Ernie Els in 2003 to complete the so-called 'Aloha Slam'.

So far, Stricker has won 12 times on the PGA Tour in a career which also featured a heart-rending barren spell in his mid-30s. He slumped as low as 337th place in the world in 2005, making his current ranking of No 5 -- America's best -- look all the more impressive.

Stricker has now won nine times on the US Tour in his 40s, placing him fifth behind Julius Boros (10), Kenny Perry (11), Sam Snead (17) and Vijay Singh (22) in the all-time list.

Clarke achieved a lifetime ambition when he took hold of the Claret Jug in Sandwich last July. It was his third victory in his 40s on the European Tour but he's determined to ensure it won't be the last.

Chubby Chandler, Clarke's close friend and long-time agent, put the Ulsterman's ambition in context during an interview this week on the Golf Channel, revealing he may even take out a US Tour card next year.

"What's happened with Darren is quite amazing," Chandler explained. "He's now exempt for every Major until July 2016 and The Open for even longer. So that'll take him to age 48, two years before ending up with the Champions Tour card I think he gets for winning The Open.

"He's almost got a 12-year plan, which is amazing because we didn't even have a one-year plan in the middle of last July. This year, because he's Open champion and can travel the world, play in tournaments and pick up the occasional promotional fee, he should make the money while he can. I wouldn't rule out him joining the PGA Tour in 2013.

"As his kids get older, their holidays can work out a little differently. So I wouldn't rule that out."

As for Clarke's latest fitness drive, Chandler went on: "I'd sort of talked him into it. I told him, 'you've got five years left in your career, you need to get fit'. "We've all seen Darren coming up the last three holes looking like he's done 36, not 18. It's probably the fact that he had smoked 20 fags on the way round or maybe had a rough night before. But he's now getting into fitness.

"So on January 3, which was his second day, I get a very excited phone call. He tells me all about the things his new trainer's going to do; how he's even got to go see an eye doctor and this and that.

"Of course, Lee Westwood's been doing all this for five years, so I've heard it before. Then Darren tells me the eye doctor 'plays a bit of golf and has noticed I missed all my putts on the left'.

"I said, 'you don't need to be an eye doctor to see that. We've seen you hitting them left for a long time!" Chandler chortled. "It's going to be interesting. If you see an improvement in Darren's body over the next few months, he's worked at it."

While Stricker goes for glory on the double in Hawaii this weekend and Masters champ Charl Schwartzel bids for a famous third victory on the trot at The Joburg Open in his native South Africa, Clarke continues to prepare for his first tournament of 2012, next week's Volvo Champions, at Fancourt on the Western Cape.

The Joburg Open,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 8.0am

Sony Open,

Live, Sky Sports 2, midnight

Irish Independent