Golf: Clarke and Westwood seek form

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DARREN CLARKE and Lee Westwood aim to play themselves back into winning form when the Compaq European Grand Prix gets under way this morning - and friendship will count for nothing.

With seven winners of European Tour events this year competing and the experienced foursome of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Sam Torrance also present, the Northumberland venue is hosting its best-ever field.

After successful seasons last year, Clarke and Westwood have struggled to make an impact so far this summer. Clarke led the European challenge in last weekend's US Open before finishing 10th and already believes he has turned the corner. Westwood knows he needs to play as many competitions as he can to regain his touch.

While targeting the winner's purse for himself, Clarke is also hoping for Westwood to get back into the form that won him seven titles in 1998. "I think everybody in the field is pretty strong, but Lee knows the golf course pretty well," Clarke said. "We're very supportive of each other. There is great rivalry between us, but we're very good pals. If one of us is going through a tough time we tend to help each other out where we can."

A positive Westwood is hoping his rehabilitation will begin at Slaley Hall. The 1998 European Tour Golfer of the Year said: "I've played well here in the past and because I've been struggling with my form lately I thought this would be a good opportunity to start something off and get some form together."

A total of 2,221 players - just short of last year's 2,340 record - have entered for the Open Championship's return to Carnoustie after 24 years next month. They include 14 former winners, but not the three-times champion Jack Nicklaus, who officially withdrew yesterday after failing to survive the half-way cut at the US Open last Friday.

Nicklaus, who underwent hip replacement surgery at the start of the year, did not play at Royal Birkdale last year either but says he has every intention of being at St Andrews next year.

Justin Rose returns after finishing fourth last year, the best display by an amateur since 1953. The 18-year-oldturned professional immediately afterwards, but has so far missed 21 successive half-way cuts on the European Tour.