Clarke believes adversity can make him stronger

Darren Clarke hopes that the most traumatic year of his life can make him a major force in golf.

Reflecting on the painful loss of his wife Heather and his incredible Ryder Cup performance, Clarke knows that not even the pressure of a major championship will be too much for him now.

His 340-yard opening tee shot at the K Club and the brilliant birdie that followed have convinced him that there is nothing he can’t do.

Clarke said: "I take a look back and think, 'I am never going to face a harder shot than I did there'.

"There was a lot going on with all the speculation on whether or not I should have made myself available to play in the Ryder Cup and whether Ian Woosnam should have given me a wildcard.

"But I proved to myself that I could stand up to it and I did it. As far as I am concerned, there won't be anything that will mean any more to me or that will put me under more pressure than what happen there.

"Hitting the first tee shot was a moment I wasn't particularly looking forward to but I teed it up and hit it straight down the fairway, hit the next one down the flag and holed it for a three and off we go - Ryder Cup started."

What happened next is part of golfing lore now, but Clarke hopes to draw on the positives over the coming seasons and join pal Tiger Woods in the pantheon of golf’s major champions.

He added: "I hope so. Whenever a scenario does present itself and I am under a lot of pressure - and hopefully that will happen a lot more times in my career - the bigger the pressure the better.

"I want to get back to competing again, trying to win and if I can do that I can hopefully take bigger steps and win bigger tournaments again.

"The majors are very important to me. I've had a difficult time the past four years trying to concentrate fully but come January 1, it will be a fresh start for me.

"If I can play the way I know I can play, I can hopefully contend in the majors.

"Paul Casey, David Howell, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington have all played great this year and I'm sure they are going to challenge Tiger in the majors."

Clarke, 38, has struck up a close friendship with Woods, whose father Earl died of cancer in May.

And he generously paid tribute to the world No 1 as well as Ryder Cup team mates Lee Westwood and Paul McGinley and their wives for their support in difficult times.

Clarke said: "Tiger had been a very traumatic point in his life, losing his father this year. We speak regularly and until the Ryder Cup, I hadn't seen him since Heather passed away.

"It was the first time and he gave me lots of kind words of encouragement in the press leading up to it. It just proves to me what genuine guy he is.

"We sat beside each other a lot that week and he was just brilliant to me. So much so that I said, ‘Did you deliberately play so bad on Saturday morning to let me win a point to make me feel better’, which he denied.

"The McGinleys and the Westwoods have been fantastic to me. Lee knows me better than anybody. We have travelled the world together for 12 years, gambled together and gotten drunk together, and to have him as my partner in the Ryder Cup made it an awful lot easier for me."

After the emotions of the K Club, Clarke is finally finding some time to grieve in private and has put away his clubs for the remainder of the year.

He explained: "After the Ryder Cup there was a big let down. Not just because the Ryder Cup was over but also the reality sinking in that Heather had passed away.

"Since that I haven't really had any desire to play golf and I am taking a break and getting myself ready for next year. It is all part and parcel of of moving on. Getting on with life."

Clarke will sign copies on his new book, "Heroes All, My Ryder Cup Story 2006" at the O’Connell Street branch of Easons at 1 pm tomorrow (Thursday).