Darren Clarke returns to European competition for the first time since his sensational victory at the World Golf Championships - NEC Invitational in Ohio three weeks ago when he tees up in his native Ulster on the European Challenge Tour for the Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters at Clandeboye GC.
Clarke, who will donate any winnings he accrues this weekend to the Darren Clarke Foundation – an initiative he launched to fund and promote junior golf in Ireland - is looking to continue the form that saw him pick up €932,919 at the Firestone Country Club a fortnight ago.
The return to the top of his form is the result of sweeping changes the 34 year old instigated in his golfing life at the start of this season – and he is delighted that those alterations, that include swing changes, a new caddie and a new set of clubs, are beginning to come together with devastating effect.
“Out of all the changes I’ve made, every one has had its own important part to play,” Clarke said at Clandeboye. “I’ve been going through a period where I’ve been playing very well and not putting scores on the board so it was very good to go to Firestone and not only win but win in the manner in which I did. That was a great boost for me.
“I wasn’t at all surprised by that though, I just went out there on the last day and played the way I knew I could. Akron didn’t save my season because I wasn’t having a disasterous season. I was having a disappointing season from the point of view that I wasn’t winning tournaments.
“I would like to win more tournaments than I have been doing, but if you take a look at the tournaments I do win, they are of a very high standard. But I would like to win more often and that’s why I made the changes at the start of the year. And it takes a while for changes to take effect and I feel as if that’s happened now.
“I decided to change at the end of last year after a disappointing season and I felt that I wanted to do better so I had to look at certain things and I had to make changes. What is it they say – ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again – with the same results’.”
His presence at Clandeboye, along with his European Tour colleague and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, is sure to make the Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters a sure fire success. Both players were delighted to lend theire support to the event – the first Challenge Tour tournament ever staged in the province.
“There was an opportunity in my schedule to come here this weekend and I’m delighted to be here,” said Clarke. “The course is in fantastic shape, the greens are among the best I’ve played on all year – they’ve actually had to slow them down because they were so fast – so I think we’re in for a very good week. The course looks as though you will be able to make plenty of birdie opportunities but you could also make a lot of mistakes very easily.
“It’s just fantastic to have the Challenge Tour here – we should be very grateful to be hosting such a quality tournament and I hope every one can enjoy it and make it a great success in order to build on this for the future.”
McDowell is equally enthused by the prospect of such a high standard of golf being played in his home country.
“It’s great to be here – and it’s very important for the Province that we have an event like this at Clandeboye,” said the 24 year old from Portrush. “We’ve had some Seniors events here in Northern Ireland recent years but this week will be an important stepping stone that can hopefully leads to full European Tour events being staged here.
“The way I see it, is that Darren and I are to give our support to the event and try to make people realise that there are some quality golf courses in Northern Ireland.
“I’ve travelled around so much over the past two years, and I get a bit fed up hearing people talking about how they played golf in Ireland but they never mention the North which some brilliant courses.”