Clarke set for Africa Open return

dThe New Year has brought with it a new focus for most of the field heading for the Africa Open at East London Golf Club in March, and none more so than for former Open champion, Darren Clarke.

The Ulsterman has won 14 European Tour titles and two World Golf Championships, but his finest moment came at Royal St George’s in 2011 where he held off Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to claim his first Major title at the 140th Open Championship.

As a veteran of five Ryder Cups – four of them on winning teams as a player and two serving as a non-playing vice-captains to the victorious Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 2012 – Clarke’s passion for the Ryder Cup is the obvious driving force behind his desire to start winning again.

Although the Northern Irishman is a hot favourite to captain Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota, the matches are still months away.

The amiable Clarke is no stranger to the local circuit.

A regular visitor to South Africa since 1991, South Africa has been kind in the past to Clarke.

In 2001, he held off Retief Goosen and Tjaart van der Walt to capture the Dimension Data Pro-Am. A tie for third at the South African Open and a fourth place finish in the 2008 Joburg Open a few weeks later kick-started his return to form after two difficult years.

Clarke went on to capture the BMW Asia International and the KLM Open and finished the season ranked 13th in Europe.

East London has been a favourite stop for Clarke, so it’s not surprising that he is drawing on fond memories to re-ignite the winning spark.

He captured the imagination of the Eastern Cape crowds when he challenged South Africa’s Goosen over the closing holes of the 2009 Africa Open and enjoyed solid performances in the 2011 and 2012 editions.

Clarke hopes a return to Buffalo City could put him back on the winning track.

“Winning again a priority for this year,” the 46-year-old said. “It’s been nearly four years since I lifted the Claret Jug and I just want to get back in the winner’s circle again.

“South Africa has always been a favourite stop and the Africa Open is very special. The crowds are amazing and very supportive and the course might be short by modern standards, but it’s a true classic.

“I’m really looking forward to return to East London and hopefully I will give the crowds something to cheer about.”

Entry is free on Thursday, 5 and Friday, 6 March. Tickets are R25 for adults and R10 for pensioners and children under 18 on Saturday, 7 and Sunday 8 March and can be purchased at entrance gate at East London Golf Club.


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