Friday, January 8, 2010

Clarke chases glory as Africa Open joins European Tour

Former Ryder Cup 2010 hero Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland heads a strong, East London (South Africa)

Africa Open field when the event joins the European Tour circuit for the first time Thursday.

Dane Thomas Bjorn and Englishman Nick Dougherty are other big names chasing glory in the one-million-euro event at the links-cum-parkland East London Golf Club.

Retief Goosen, twice US Open champion, pipped Clarke for the Africa Open title last year and other South Africans will be trying to prevent a European Tour hat-trick for invaders this season.

The second edition of the Road to Dubai European Tour order of merit won by Englishman Lee Westwood last season began in South Africa a month ago with victories for rising stars Pablo Martin and Richie Ramsay.

Spaniard Martin won the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in the eastern Mpumalanga province and Scot Ramsay lifted the South African Open after a play-off against Indian Shiv Kapur at Pearl Valley near Cape Town.

They say golfing greatness is defined by the Majors, but Montgomerie is perhaps the exception to that rule. Despite winning all of The European Tour’s biggest prizes, The Ryder Cup 2010, where he has starred in a record equalling five victories – provides the Scot with his greatness. 

The world number 11 is still hoping to kick off 2010 in the Abu Dhabi Championship starting on January 21.

Argentine Angel Cabrera fired a course-record 62 on the intriguing par-73 layout at the Africa Open last year only to be upstaged by Sterne, who needed one stroke less in the same tournament.

Clarke overcame the death of his wife to play a pivotal role in the 2006 Ryder Cup triumph over the United States at a rain-soaked K Club outside Dublin and craves another crack at the Americans in Wales this October.

"I enjoyed playing in the Africa Open last year when finishing second behind Retief and I'm really looking forward to this tournament," Clarke said after a practice round designed to brush off festive-season cobwebs.

Competitors face raised tees, narrow fairways and minute greens on an outward-nine adventure that drifts through Indian Ocean dunes and can be pleasant when calm and perilous should the wind unleash its fury.

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