Clarke chasing form as he aims to defend title

OPEN champion Darren Clarke admits he is desperately short of his most formidable form as he prepares to defend his title at Royal Lytham next week.

Ulsterman Clarke was a hugely popular but unexpected victor 12 months ago at Royal St George’s, winning the first Major of his career aged 42, but has made just one cut all season.

“I play golf to win tournaments and I’ve been nowhere near that standard for quite some time,” he said. “I’ve got pretty annoyed and although I’m practising and doing all the right things, it just hasn’t clicked so far. I’ve had a wonderful year off the golf course, but a very frustrating year on it.”

Far from being content with a long-awaited first Major title, Clarke says last year’s three-stroke triumph at Sandwich has merely whetted his appetite.

“I know what winning a Major is like and I want more of it – that’s why I’m practising, I’m craving more success,” he added. “I wasn’t supposed to win it last year and its nice to go to Lytham where I’m not supposed to win it this year. I feel no pressure as my name is on the Claret Jug and it will be there forever.”

But Clarke’s slump has not deterred 2002 winner Ernie Els from tipping him as a dark horse.

“That’s one place where he’s comfortable,” said Els. “I know he’s struggling with his game, [but] I know he’s not that far off.”