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Golf | SA

Darren Clarke © Gallo Images

Clarke ready for Copperleaf test

One of the standout players in a star-studded field at this week’s inaugural Tshwane Open at the Els Club Copperleaf is Darren Clarke, and the 2011 Open Champion is keen to kick-start his 2013 campaign on a strong note after the indifferent form he’s shown since his triumph at Royal St George’s more than 18 months ago.

“Ah you know I’m working away,” Clarke told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s been a very frustrating period for me, but one of these weeks things are going to fall back into place again. The weather at home has been minus one, minus two degrees, but I’ve been out every day beating balls, chipping, putting. It’s a bit different to this sort of temperature, but it’s obviously great to be here.”

Temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius were not the only shock to the Northern Irishman’s system. The Ernie Els-designed course measures in excess of 7 100 metres, thus making it one of the longest on the European Tour.

With the summer rains having softened the fairways even further, length off tee will be at a premium and Clarke is expecting the course to provide a stern test.

“It’s brutally long in places, but some of the short holes are typical Ernie – lots of run-offs. A good short game is going to come to the fore if you do miss the short holes.

"It’s going to be a tough test, because every par-five feels like 650 yards, so it’s not the usual where everyone is going to be hammering it in two. The course is good though, and it’s in great condition.

“The way that it’s set up, I think the front nine is possibly the more difficult. It’s certainly the longer of the two nines, so if you do get off to a good start on the front nine you can build some momentum and make some birdies coming in.

“Some of the local guys will have a bit of an advantage because they know the golf course, but the field is very strong. However, the course is very tough and it’s going to be a test no matter who the players are,” he concluded.

The €1.5 million showpiece in Tshwane offers up a lucrative winner’s cheque of just under R2.8 million, and it has now established itself as the sixth event of the Sunshine Tour’s summer season to be co-sanctioned by the European Tour – more than any other country.

Clarke revealed that he has been impressed with the growth of co-sanctioned events in South Africa, and believes that the working relationship between the two Tours is also greatly beneficial for the European Tour.

“It can only be good (the growth of South African golf). I’ve been coming down here since 1990 and I’ve got so many good friends down here, so it’s always a pleasure for me to come back. With Selwyn Nathan being back, it’s also great to see,” the 44-year old said.

He continued: “The South African tour has the likes of Charl, Louis, Ernie and Richard Sterne, and you don’t get as many world-class golfers as South Africa has unless the golf courses are very good. To come down here at this time of the year is a huge boost for the European Tour and it’s great to come and play courses like this in a condition like this.”

Clarke’s tournament gets under way at 12:20pm on Thursday, and he’ll have Garth Mulroy and Englishman Danny Willett for company in an impressive three-ball.

The first ball on day one will be struck at 6:30am, with live coverage available on SuperSport from 1:30pm.


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