Clarke dumps alcohol and cigarettes to aim for Masters spot

When a golfer of a certain vintage sees the glut of outrageous young talent emerging they can go one of two ways. They can either accept their days are up and accept the Ryder Cup captaincy. Or they can give up the fags and booze and cut down from 15 café lattes a day to two.

While Colin Montgomerie was practising at Doha Golf Club yesterday having to keep up the pretence that it might not be true that his appointment as Europe captain is just one week away – in reality, Barack Obama's inauguration was only slightly more signposted – Darren Clarke was apparently looking keener to compete than ever.

"I just decided I wanted to give up the drink," said the 40-year-old, who finished second in last week's Africa Open in East London. "I've also given up the cigarettes and I am going back on the cigars. I'm in the gym twice a day and have gone from having 15 lattes a day to two. I haven't had the shakes or anything. I am in good shape and I'm ready to go."

Clarke will have to be because the field for the Qatar Masters, which begins this morning, is one of the finest assembled in the European Tour's history. It features 17 of the world's top 50, including the defending champion Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and the sensational 19-year-old Rory McIlroy.

That means plenty of ranking points are on offer and Clarke can sense a chance to march towards the top 50 in time for an invitation to Augusta. "The Masters is still a goal and I can still sneak in so we'll see what happens, but it was good to get out of the blocks last weekend," said the world No 71.

England's Paul Casey had a flying start to 2009 when winning last week's Abu Dhabi Championship. He tees off today with Boo Weekley, the American Ryder Cup hero playing his first event as a European Tour member.

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