Clarke in right shape to launch Open challenge

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The Independent Online

While in one sense there is a little less of Darren Clarke these days, in another there is so much more. Inspired by the example of Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance, Clarke has lost a stone and three-quarters in weight after going on a no-carbohydrate diet.

"It's all protein, protein, protein and no Guinness," Clarke said. In celebration of his victory in the Smurfit European Open at the K Club he waived the no black stuff rule on Sunday night.

"If there are things I need to do to become a better player, I decided I needed to do them," Clarke added. "It is easier to do what I do without the belly to swing round." Clarke has also been having stretching sessions with a physiotherapist called John Newton. "John is the only person big enough to make me do it," he said. "I am feeling stronger and more flexible." But if the 32-year-old Irishman is more malleable of limb, he is also seeking to become more steely of mind. Ten days before his victory on Sunday, Clarke began working with Jos Vanstiphout, the ubiquitous Belgian sports psychologist who has worked with Clarke's countrymen Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, and was also credited by Retief Goosen for helping in the South African's US Open triumph last month.

Clarke has been known to let winning chances slip away, not least at the Spanish Open at El Saler earlier this year. This was only his eighth European Tour title but, coming in front of a home crowd, one of the most impressive. It surpassed, in his eyes, even his victory against Tiger Woods in the World Matchplay at La Costa last year.

"I felt as calm and focused as I have ever been on the golf course," he said. "My course management was fantastic. There are a lot of potential disasters on that course but I managed to stay out of trouble." Unlike two years ago when he blew a six-stroke lead at the K Club with a final round of 75 while Lee Westwood overtook him with a 65. "I went through everything that could happen that week," Clarke recalled. "I had a 60 in the second round and had chances for a 59 or even a 58. The next day I had a hole-in-one in a 66 but then in the final round I missed everything on the greens.

"The disappointment was not being able to produce the number I wanted to. When I am not able to do what I think I should be able to do, that's when I am hardest on myself. That week was the most disappointed I have ever been in finishing off a tournament but this is the best. I've won all around the world but never managed to win at home before." One of the first people to buy Clarke a pint on Sunday evening was John O'Leary, the last Irishman to win on home soil 19 years ago. Following Colin Montgomerie's win at the Irish Open, the last two weeks have brought victories for two of Europe's top players.

It would be ideal if Lee Westwood could follow suit in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond this week, given The Open at Royal Lytham follows straight on. "This win has given me a big boost for Lytham," Clarke said. "I know my game is in good shape and I feel in control of my ball flight."