Sport Golf

Saturday 25 November 2017

Darren Clarke playing to restore pride at Volvo World Match Play Championships

Darren Clarke tees off on the third hole during the Pro Am for the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesin. Photo: Getty Images
Darren Clarke tees off on the third hole during the Pro Am for the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesin. Photo: Getty Images

BRITISH Open champion Darren Clarke admits his pride has been wounded as he begins yet another attempt to spark his career back into life.

Heading into the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesin in Spain, the 43-year-old is still searching for his first top-10 finish since Sandwich last July - and has yet to make a halfway cut this season.

"My pride has been hurt. That's enough motivation," Clarke told Press Association Sport today. "I don't need anything else.

"I've been so frustrated with the whole thing because I've been trying so hard. Too hard probably - not to justify the Open win, but to back it up.

"It's not as if I'm being lazy. Whenever I'm in Portrush I'm beating balls in all weathers.

"I don't want to play the way I've been playing and I'll just keep going, keep going, keep going - it will turn round at some stage."

It is not an excuse but Clarke, who will receive his OBE from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in two weeks' time, does point out that his commitments off the course have increased 10-fold following his major win.

"I'm not very good at saying 'No'," he admitted. "My schedule has been chaotic and that's why I didn't go to the Players Championship last week. Another trip to the States wouldn't have been any good.

"Hopefully one of these days my game will just click back into place. The bottom line is that I've just got to play better."

The season has been such a letdown that thoughts of a return to Ryder Cup action - his last appearance was that emotional week at The K Club in 2006 when he won all his three games only six weeks after his wife died from breast cancer - are distant from his mind.

"At the moment I'm so far out of the reckoning, but there's still a long way to go," added Clarke, who married again in the Bahamas last month.

The only two tournaments where he stayed to the end this season were those with no cuts. He was 20th out of 35 at the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa and then 43rd out of 72 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami.

That event was won by Justin Rose and it is him and fellow Englishman Robert Rock - conqueror of Tiger Woods and the world's top three in Abu Dhabi in January - that Clarke takes on in the group stages this week.

The 24-strong field is divided into eight groups of three, with the top two progressing to the last 16 after round-robin games.

Rose, who finished only 51st at Sawgrass on Sunday, finds himself the second seed for this week with 10 of the 11 players ranked ahead of him turning the event down.

Martin Kaymer, the world's number nine, is top seed and is grouped with Dubai Desert Classic winner Rafael Cabrera-Bello and England's Richard Finch.

At 218th in the world, Finch is the lowest-ranked player taking part. Third place at last month's China Open got him in because top two Branden Grace and Nicolas Colsaerts were already qualified.

Defending champion is Ian Poulter, who starts against Australian John Senden tomorrow and then will play compatriot Tom Lewis, the 21-year-old who led The Open an amateur last summer and then won the Portugal Masters - another of the qualifying events for the Match Play - on only his third start as a professional.

Paul Lawrie, playing his 500th European Tour event, is up against Peter Hanson and Camilo Villegas and Graeme McDowell faces Robert Karlsson and South African Jbe Kruger.

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