Clarke to play for high stakes at home and away

DARREN CLARKE is set to play a minimum of 11 tournaments in America this year but is adamant that he will not be joining the US Tour full-time.

He would need to play 15 tournaments (and win enough prize money) to qualify for membership, but says he is happy to ply his trade on both sides of the Atlantic.

Clarke has enjoyed a rest from the rigours of the professional circuit and is “bursting to get back playing again”, something he will do next week in the Dimension Data pro-am at Sun City, South Africa.

Dimension Data are Clarke’s main sponsor and he delighted them by winning the pro-am, which attracts a very strong field, in 2001.

After South Africa, he will devote another couple of weeks to practicing at home before setting off for a busy five-week worldwide stint.

He will contest the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, San Diego; the Nissan Open at Riviera, Los Angeles, and the Accenture WGC World Match Play Championship at Carlsbad, where he defeated Tiger Woods in the final in 2000.

He goes straight from the west coast of the United States to compete in the Desert Classic in Dubai and the Qatar Masters on the European Tour provided, of course, that the little spat between Saddam Hussein and George W Bush doesn’t intervene.

After a week off, he will again cross the Atlantic to take in the Tournament Players Championship in Jacksonville, Florida. He will, however, skip the Bell South Classic so as to be fully prepared for the first major of the season, the Masters at Augusta on April 10 to 13.

His subsequent assignments in the States are the US Open in June, the British Open in July; the International in Denver, Colorado; the PGA Championship in Rochester, New York State; the WGC NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio, all in August, and the WGC American Express Championship in Atlanta, Georgia, the following month.

Clarke has also pencilled the Smurfit European Open at The K-Club and the Nissan Irish Open, both in July, into his 2003 schedule.

Ernie Els’s spectacular eight-shot victory in the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii at the weekend has moved him up to second place in the world rankings, behind Tiger Woods and ahead of Phil Mickelson. Padraig Harrington fell back again from 7th to 8th, and Clarke from 22nd to 23rd.

Harrington leads the European Tour money list with 247, 967, but will not be returning to the circuit until February for the Malaysian Open.

Other Irish placings: 35th, Gary Murphy 14, 900; 46th, Peter Lawrie 12, 127; 74th, Graeme McDowell 6, 314; 113th, Padraig Dooley 1, 143; 115th, Tim Rice 1, 137.

Justin Rose defends his title in this week’s Dunhill Championship in Johannesburg, which will see Ireland’s Murphy and Lawrie in action.

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