A resurgent and revitalised Darren Clarke has set his sights on returning to the top of the world game and admitted his appetite for success has returned.
The Ulsterman is hoping to land a first European Tour title in just over four years at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship this week.
Six months ago Clarke was missing a succession of cuts, but the 39-year-old has now recorded back-to-back top-five finishes at the South African Airways Open and last week’s Joburg Open – and on both occasions headed into the final round in contention to land the title.
Clarke, a 10-time European Tour winner, last tasted success on his home tour with victory at the WGC-NEC Invitational in August 2003, while his last triumph overall was at the Taiheiyo Masters in Japan on 2005.
“It was a long time ago that I was this enthusiastic,” said Clarke.
“I’ve always been keen but now I am working harder than I’ve ever worked before. I am just getting happier now and starting to smile on the golf course and be more comfortable, which I haven’t been for a long time.
“I am hungry to be in contention, it’s what I do and it’s what I want to do and I haven’t been there the last few years for obvious reasons. I think there are a lot more wins in me. I would like to think that I can top what I have already done in my career – I wouldn’t be working so hard if I didn’t.”
Clarke finished in a tie third at South African Airways Open following a final round 68, while a bogey at the 17th last week ultimately ended his chances.
He said: “The couple of weeks down in South Africa prior to Christmas certainly gave me a big boost, and then last week, again, I played very well. It was nice to come back last week and pick up where I left off. I’m looking forward to it, I want to play and be competing and getting myself right back in contention.”
Clarke’s troubles are well documented since the death of his wife Heather from breast cancer last August, but a relaxed and smiling Ryder Cup winner is now back in the groove and looking at hauling himself up from 204th on the current world rankings after sitting 24th at the start of Ryder Cup week two years ago.
Following the death of his wife he had a short relationship with family friend Nicola Regan, and recently news of a relationship with American Kerry Schiller has emerged and been confirmed by Clarke.
“I was working away, working really hard, my head just wasn’t there. It wasn’t in a place that I could compete and get out there and things were irritating me,” said Clarke.
“But I got to a stage where I got through a lot of it, anniversaries and stuff from last year, and basically from the middle of August onwards I really got myself into a position where I wanted to play again. It’s been a gradual thing of getting better.
“Overall I am doing a lot better. It’s never much fun when you are struggling like I was last year, being where I’ve been.
“I want to play and I want to get myself up as a top player again, I don’t even know where I am in the world rankings. I’m desperate to get myself back up there again. I really want to play, I want to compete and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to play. I’m keen to get to the range and practice and keep on doing the things that I’m doing.”