A week after making his 50th appearance in a Major tournament at the US PGA Championship, Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke will attempt to successfully defend The KLM Open title at Kennemer Golf and Country Club in Zandvoort, The Netherlands.
Clarke claimed his 12th European Tour title 12 months ago when he cruised to a four-stroke win over fellow countryman Paul McGinley, who returns to Kennemer G&CC hoping to go one better this year.
The Ulsterman’s winning score of 164 (-16) was the lowest aggregate total recorded at the 6,626 yards, par 70 course, which will this year be used as the host venue for the ninth time after making its debut on The European Tour International Schedule in 1976, when the great Seve Ballesteros of Spain captured his first KLM Open title and indeed the first of his 50 European Tour titles.
Clarke, who successfully defended a title for the first and only time in a glittering career at The English Open in 2000, will now attempt to follow Ballesteros’ lead by becoming a multiple winner of the event, which this year carries a prize fund of €1.8million.
The 41 year old said: “Every win is special but I particularly enjoyed the victory at Kennemer last year, not only for the golf I played over the four days but also for the fact that it carried on the good form I’d shown four months earlier, when I won in China.
“It was also great to have my two boys, Tyrone and Conor, there to watch me hole the winning putt. To stand there with the trophy in one arm and my boys in the other was a very special moment for me.
“I’ve always enjoyed my trips to The Netherlands and in particular to Kennemer, which is an excellent golf course. So I’m very much looking forward to going back to defend the title.”
Clarke’s triumph saw him join an illustrious roll call of former champions which includes not only Ballesteros, but also recent Ryder Cup stars such as the Spanish duo of Miguel Angel Jiménez and José Maria Olazábal, Germany’s Bernhard Langer, Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie and Englishman Lee Westwood.
Montgomerie and Olazábal are both also bidding for a Dutch double this week, with the Scot having joined Clarke in flying to Amsterdam after competing in the US PGA Championship.
Olazábal’s victory at Kennemer G&CC in 1989 was particularly memorable and hard-fought, as it came courtesy of a nine hole play-off with England’s Roger Chapman and Northern Ireland’s Ronan Rafferty – which remains a European Tour record to this day.
Clarke, Montgomerie and Olazábal are joined in the field by six fellow former champions: the English duo of Simon Dyson and David Lynn, Maarten Lafeber of The Netherlands, Australia’s Stephen Leaney, Wales’ Mark Mouland and Germany’s Sven Strüver.
Lafeber, who triumphed in 2003, remains the only Dutchman to have won the event since it became part of The European Tour International Schedule in 1972.
But a bold bid is expected of a strong home contingent which includes European Tour champions Robert-Jan Derksen and Rolf Muntz, and Challenge Tour champions Wil Besseling, Joost Luiten, Taco Remkes and Inder Van Weerelt.
It is a first appearance of the season for Luiten, who is still recovering from the wrist injury he suffered in the 2008 BMW Asian Open – which was won, incidentally, by Clarke, with Derksen finishing runner-up.
The season before, Luiten had showed his undoubted promise by capturing two titles en route to sixth place in the Rankings in his maiden Challenge Tour campaign, and also finishing runner-up behind Ross Fisher of England in The KLM Open.
The home challenge will also be supplemented this year by Reinier Saxton, who last year became only the second Dutchman – after Muntz – to win the Amateur Championship.