Darren Clarke will continue his golfing renaissance in Spain this week when he tees up in the Open de España at Real Club de Golf de Sevilla with added vigour following his win in the BMW Asian Open.
Clarke made an emotional return to the winners’ enclosure on Sunday when he holed a 40 birdie putt to win his first European Tour title in almost five years, and the first title worldwide since 2005. Buoyed by that victory in Shanghai, Clarke heads back to European soil with the future looking distinctly bright for the Ulsterman.
“I just want to keep playing the way I have been playing this week,” said Clarke after claiming his 11th European Tour title. “I want to keep playing golf. I think there is a lot of good golf in me yet and as frustrating a time as it has been, it is nice to see the work paying off. Hopefully I will put myself in a position to challenge for tournaments a lot more frequently. Whether I win them or not is another matter. If I keep putting myself in position hopefully I will get my fair share.
“If anything, my win has given me renewed vigour to carry on and keep working because I want more of this.”
Clarke’s ISM stablemate Charl Schwartzel is defending the title as he looks to capitalise on the feel-good factor sweeping through South African golf.
Three weeks ago Trevor Immelman slipped into the Green Jacket after his first Major triumph in the Masters Tournament, and fellow South African Schwartzel, who has recently earned his pilot’s licence, will be looking to follow in his slipstream as he attempts to become the first player to make a successful defence of the Open de España title in over 50 years.
The last player to retain the title in one of the oldest of the continental Opens, which dates back to 1912, was former Open Champion Max Faulkner in 1952-53, and the talented young Springbok will be hoping to emulate that feat as he heads to Seville in impressive form with three top tens under his belt this season.
His victory 12 months ago came exactly 50 European Tour events after his breakthrough in the 2005 dunhill championship in his native country and, in picking up the winner’s cheque at Centro Nacional de Golf on the outskirts of Madrid, he moved into the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Schwartzel defends his title against a field that includes home favourite Miguel Angel Jiménez, eight-time Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, back in competitive action for the first time since his recent wedding; Thomas Levet, who has his eyes set on a Spanish double, and American John Daly, winner of two Major Championships.
Real Club de Golf de Sevilla hosts the Open de España for the first time although the course, designed by José-Maria Olazábal, is no stranger to European Tour golf having hosted both the Open de Sevilla and the World Cup in 2004.
Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez won the former title while the Spanish team of Jiménez and Sergio Garcia came close to a home victory in the World Cup, narrowly missing out to England.
Jiménez returns to Seville to headline the home challenge as he looks for a second title of the season after his victory in the UBS Hong Kong Open. His fine showing at Augusta National, where he shot the lowest round of the final day to climb into a share of eighth place in the Masters Tournament, will ensure he tees up in confident mood.
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, José Manuel Lara, Pablo Martin, Alvaro Quiros Garcia, and Carl Suneson all triumphed on The European Tour International Schedule last season and will be looking for further success in their national Open.
Levet is in action, targeting a Spanish double after his success on The European Tour’s last visit to Spain, when he won the MAPFRE Open de Andalucia by Valle Romano, while 1993 Open de Espana champion Joakim Haeggman, of Sweden, arrives on a high after winning the AGF-Allianz Open Cotes d’Armor Bretagne on the Challenge Tour on Saturday.
The World’s top ranked amateur Danny Willett, of England, is also in the field having earned a berth through his victory in the Spanish Amateur Championship. Willett will be playing his second European Tour event after his impressive debut in Andalucia where he finished joint 19th.
An invitation has also been extended to big-hitting Daly, giving the Spanish golfing public their first opportunity to see the ‘Wild Thing’ in action for 16 years. The former Open and US PGA Champion has made only one previous visit to Spain, for the 1992 Iberia Madrid Open.
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