'Lean, mean' Clarke off drink and fired up
DARREN CLARKE is a changed man - a "lean, mean fighting machine" according to his own website - as he kicks off his season in South Africa tomorrow.
The British Open champion has been off the booze and in the gym ahead of the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt.
Brilliant and career-defining though his win at Sandwich was - it came 20 years after his first attempt to lift the Claret Jug - the last five months of last year were a big letdown for the 43-year-old Dungannon native - and he does not want the same to be true of the next 12 months.
"My golf career has been extended somewhat by winning the Open Championship and I just thought that enough is enough and it was time to get myself into better shape," he said.
As soon as Christmas was over, Clarke began working with Belfast-based fitness expert Jonny Bloomfield, recommended to him by Lee Westwood's trainer, Steve MacGregor.
"Jonny's a sports scientist and he's got me doing all sorts in the gym, having my eyes checked out, nutrition et cetera," Clarke said.
"Therefore, my alcohol consumption is taking a massive dint ... currently down to zero! However, no pain, no gain and I'm excited about the route that we're going down."
Clarke's extraordinary win from 111th in the world makes him exempt for the Open until he is 61 and, after thinking his days competing in the Masters might be over, he will be at Augusta for the next five Aprils.
The man who won there last spring, South African Charl Schwartzel, is his playing partner in the opening round of this week's tournament - a 35-man no-cut event reserved for last year's European Tour winners and anyone with 10 or more wins on the tour.
Pádraig Harrington partners Ernie Els at the start of what is a huge opportunity for both of them to re-ignite their careers.