WITH just three weeks to go to his defence of The Open Championship, Darren Clarke realises this week’s sell-out Irish Open Championship offers a fantastic opportunity to end a nightmare slump in form.
Playing at Royal Portrush on the Dunluce Links – a course he has known since he was a boy – is only part of the reason Clarke is eager to get his ‘home’ Euro Tour event challenge under way this morning.
The 43-year-old was not even born when Northern Ireland last staged the event – that was 1953 – and the extra special nature of the week began for him on Wednesday when he partnered both his father Godfrey and older son Tyrone, plus Westlife’s Shane Filan, in the curtain-raising pro-am.
“The Irish Open has always been one of my favourite tournaments and to have it here at Royal Portrush with this amount of people makes me very, very proud,” Clarke said.
“It’s all worked out unbelievably well. The players love it - it’s almost got an Open feel, which is what I think the course deserves.
“I moved up here when I was young, played an awful lot of my golf here and moved back a couple of years ago.
“Winning The Open was due - a lot of it was due – to the fact that I was living here and playing Royal Portrush. Every one of my fellow Tour pros bar none has been full of praise already.
“The Open is the biggest and best tournament in the world – obviously I won last year, so I have to say that. But it is and for guys to come here and say everything about it feels like an Open Championship is about as big praise as anybody can give it.”
Clarke has not played for a month, missing the Nordea Masters in Sweden and then the US Open because of a recurring groin strain.
He hopes the break has enabled him to start afresh in a season in which he has, amazingly, yet to survive a halfway cut.
On both his fitness and his game he described things as “not too bad”, adding: “I’ve been down here quite a lot practising and I’m looking forward to getting back.”
He had said earlier this month that he would be playing with the aid of a Zimmer frame if necessary, but it will not be necessary.
He said: “I’ll crawl around. I’ve been working away and hopefully things will turn around pretty soon.”
Rain and wind is expected during for the tournament and, having conquered foul conditions at Sandwich last July, Clarke does not mind that at all.
He added: “The forecast is for pretty normal Portrush weather. It might not be to everybody’s liking, but I’ve played it in some pretty horrific conditions, so hopefully that will be a little bit of an advantage.
“It’s a course you need to know a little bit – definitely in bad weather.”