Golf: Britons feel the heat in Malaysia

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The Independent Online
LEE WESTWOOD and Darren Clarke start as the favourites going into the Benson and Hedges Malaysian Open, which starts today. With a first prize of pounds 75,000, the tournament is the first joint venture between the European Tour and Asian PGA and has been billed as "East meets West."

Humidity remains a worry for the westerners, but Westwood is accustomed to the food and conditions, having won the title in 1997 and being denied last year only in a play-off by the Rochdale-born Las Vegan Ed Fryatt.

"I suffered when I first played in Asia five years ago," Westwood said yesterday. "I got food poisoning on the plane over and needed an injection. It didn't help playing with a temperature. Anybody who has not had experience of these conditions is going to struggle really.

"Your concentration can wander at the best of times when it's not hot. But if you get flustered and hit some bad shots in this humidity it's hard to get your concentration back. It's probably the first thing that goes."

Westwood starts his season at a best-ever sixth in the world - two places higher than when he last played two months ago. He said he is not intimidated by his own success. "I don't bother with all the expectations on me. I have my goals and if I reach them I'm happy and if I don't then I'm disappointed," he said.

Clarke, who by winning the season-ending Volvo Masters forced his way between Colin Montgomerie and Westwood at the top of the Order of Merit, has shed a stone in the past month and has not smoked since last November. "I've been working out six days a week," he said. "It was very enjoyable putting the weight on, not so enjoyable taking it off," said the 30-year- old Ulsterman.

"Hopefully I will feel the benefits - I have during the practice rounds here. I need to get another one and a half stones off, but the difference already is that I'm not as lethargic as I was. My immediate goal is the world's top 10 [he is currently 16th]. To do that I've got to win more and bigger tournaments."