Clarke fighting to be fit for Masters return
Darren Clarke was the last player to register for this year's Masters and he's fighting a niggling groin injury that could see the reigning British Open champion struggle in the season's first Major. Clarke limped off last week’s Shell Houston Open complaining of the injury with the advice as the only cure being rest.
But after playing just two lots of nine holes over two days and also deciding not to contest the Par 3 Contest, Clarke is continuing a course of pain killers ahead of his 1.20 pm first day tee time.
“The groin is still sore but I haven’t had any treatment because there is nothing you can do except give myself rest," he said.
“So I’m on the pain killers this week and hopefully I can play a full 72 holes.”
Clarke’s injury concern meant he was the very last player in this year’s 76th Masters to register and being allocated badge No. 96 and with fellow Ulsterman and Master favourite Rory McIlroy sporting badge No. 95.
“I remember I was the first to register when I first came here in ’98,” he recalled.
“The defending champion always get badge No. 1 and I was given No. 2.
“So this year I was the last to register and maybe that could be a good omen.
“I know I’m going to need some outside help and maybe it could be that.”
Clarke played the front nine late on Tuesday and was first out, and with not a spectator in sight at 8.10 am yesterday in playing the back nine due to the course being closed to 8.40 am in order to clear debris from a wild storm that raced through the Augusta area just prior to midnight on Tuesday.
“I’ve just been taking it easy these past few days since Houston as the only thing I could do get myself better was rest,” he said.
“While it’s nice being back to Augusta I’ve played here 10 times before so it’s not as though I don’t know the course.
“And besides there’s not too many changes of note.”
In fact Clarke has played 34 rounds of Augusta with a best finish of a share of eighth in his very first appearance in 2000.
Clarke’s lowest score is a 66 on day one of the 2003 Masters that put him into first place before a horror 76 and then scores of 78 and 74 to finish 28 th behind Canadian southpaw Mike Weir.
And in his last Augusta appearance in 2007 Clarke was behind the eight ball early on shooting an 83 to eventually miss the cut.
Other stats include Clarke enjoying an Augusta National scoring average of 73 but in relation to par he’s 34 over for his 34 rounds.
But more topical is that Clarke has not posted a top-20 since lifting the Claret Jug last July.
Clarke will tee up in the company of 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples and 20-year old Japanese heart throb Ryo Ishikawa who was afforded a ‘Special Invitation’ to compete in his fourth Masters.Written by Bernie McGuire
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