Slimmed-down Clarke muscles in on leaderboard

Picture: Getty

Darren Clarke put his new trim look to good effort by shooting his way to a three under 69 and a share of third place on the opening day of the Volvo Champions event in Durban.

Clarke, who also hasn’t tasted success since his British Open win in 2011, posted five birdies. The Irishman, who believes he’s played the Royal Durban course on some 13 occasions, capped his round at the second hole when he chipped-in for birdie 10 yards shy of the green.

But after it was revealed in the Irish Examiner earlier this week the former portly Portrushman has already shed three stone, Clarke’s now finding himself dealing with ever increasing questions on his new look.

“Listen, I haven’t gone totally to the dark side,” he said. “It’s just that I am more careful what I do. I’ve worked very hard in my gym back home and for the most part I have been very careful with what I eat but I still have time to have a few pints and enjoy myself with my mates.”

Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin heads the elite 36-player field and was the only played not to post a bogey.

South African and defending champion Louis Oosthuizen put aside a continuing nagging back injury that spoilt his 2013 season to be in second place on four under par.

“I grew up in Mossel Bay where the wind was born and then goes out to the rest of the country,” he laughed.

“So the conditions today were very much like back home and what I have been used to most of my life.”

Co Down’s Simon Thornton played his last five holes in four under par that commenced with a 14th hole eagle in a round of 72 while Pádraig Harrington commenced his New Year with a 71 but letting slip a birdie at the short par four, 18th when he found a greenside bunker on route to a par.

“Well I had to try and make sure I enjoyed it because I kind of got a very iffy start so I stuck in there,” said Harrington.

“I was getting some very early lectures off my caddie, like: ‘This is too early to be starting this for the year’. It would have been nice to birdie the last after what I thought was a good bunker shot but a 71 is okay.”


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