Clarke fired up to defend title

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The Independent Online

Since the World Golf Championships were introduced in 1999, Tiger Woods has played 16 of the 19 events, won nine of them and earned more than $10m (£5.5m).

Since the World Golf Championships were introduced in 1999, Tiger Woods has played 16 of the 19 events, won nine of them and earned more than $10m (£5.5m).

In contrast, 59 European golfers have competed in them - and the only player to win one remains Darren Clarke. The Ulsterman, who beat Woods in the final of the Accenture Match Play in California in 2000, picked up another $1m prize when he won the NEC Invitational by four clear strokes at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, last August.

Clarke starts his defence today determined to keep hold of his one title and to make up for the disappointment of last week's 13th place in the USPGA Championship.

Leader after an opening 65, he still had hopes of a first major crown when he began the final day in joint third place, but he fell away with a 76. Asked for a summary of his season so far Clarke came up with "average", but he can change that.

There is still the Ryder Cup to come, of course, but Firestone comes first. Clarke said: "This is one of my favourite courses and it's in magnificent shape, as it always is. When you get here and see all the pictures of the previous winners it's a Who's Who of Golf."

"There's no extra pressure being the defending champion. I had a fantastic week last year and it's always good to come back to a course you've played well on in the past. There are some courses that seem to fit my eye better than others and this is certainly one of them."

With Sergio Garcia missing the halfway cut last week, Padraig Harrington has again been left as the only European in the current world top 10. The Dubliner is also seeking his first win of the year, however. After starting well last week he came only 45th after a closing 78.

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