By Brian Keogh
Gutted Darren Clarke has been forced to pull out of the Irish Open at Adare Manor - throwing his season further into chaos.
After undergoing an MRI scan on his right hamstring in London, medical experts have advised him to rest and have intensive treatment or risk long-term damage.
The despondent Ulsterman, 38, also confirmed that he will not be making a triumphant return to the K Club for the Smurfit European Open in July as his PGA Tour career hangs in the balance.
In a statement, Clarke said: “To say I’m disappointed is putting it mildly. I so wanted to compete for Ireland’s national title so this is another blow on top of many recent frustrations.
“If I had played this week, I would have risked further damage and probably turned it into a long-term injury.
“I feel gutted not to play in the Irish Open especially after coming so close last year. I’m really down in the dumps after so many recent setbacks, but I have to make sure I get fit as soon as I possibly can.
“I have the chance of being fit to return at Wentworth next week for the BMW PGA Championship.”
Clarke damaged his hamstring after a tackle from his son Conor in a back garden kickabout four weeks ago. As a results, he was forced to pull out after the first round of the Wachovia Championship and after six holes of last week’s Players at Sawgrass.
He has since crashed to 85th in the world rankings and 216th in the FedEx Cup Points list on the PGA Tour.
Struggling to play the obligatory 15 events to retain his American membership, he has decided to skip the Smurfit European Open and play Tiger Woods’s AT&T National in Washington DC instead.
The objective is to earn enough FedEx Cup points to qualify for the the Barclays Classic in New York from August 23-26.
Not only is it the first of four FedEx Cup play-off events - with a $10 million winner's bonus - but Barclays are also his main sponsors.
His manager Chubby Chandler explained: “He’s got to be seen to try and qualify to play in the Barclays. So he’ll play the Buick Open at Warwick Hills and Tiger’s tournament at Congressional in July.”
After dropping outside the world’s top 50, the Ulsterman is struggling to play the required 15 events for PGA Tour membership.
Chandler added: “He has already missed the WGC-CA Championship don’t forget and he could miss the US Open, so he’s struggling to get the 15 events he needs.
“The trouble is he is going to play the US Open unless he qualifies. If not, he’s only got the Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA to try and get enough FedEx Cup points.”
Chandler insisted that Clarke’s decision to skip the European Open has nothing to do with getting appearance money in the US.
He said: “Believe me, he ain't getting paid. It’s because Barclays have paid him an awful lot of money and have been unbelievably good to him over the last two years.
“He’s got a sponsor there who’s stuck by him and never bitched or moaned if he missed a corporate day.
“We’ve replaced him three or four times when he had to stay with Heather or go with her to treatment and stuff like that. It was one of those things. Now and again he has to do things that are best for other people.”
Clarke has been working with mind magician Jamil Qureshi and European Tour physio Jonathan Shrewsbury to get fit again.
Qureshi famously played mind games with the European Ryder Cup team at the K Club last year while Shrewsbury has worked with Premiership sides Reading and Chelsea.
Chandler added: “The specialist says that Darren’s got better and better each day but it’s still not right. If he was told he couldn’t do any further damage by playing, he would have done so.
“But when told that another week’s intensive treatment should get him perfectly right for the BMW PGA Championship and that he could do further damage, by playing he felt he had no option but to pull out.
“He’d love to have played. You don’t think Westwood winning on Sunday made him want to play even more in the Irish Open than he already wanted to play?
“His mindset is great, everything is great except that he’s got a little twinge in his leg that he didn’t get seen to properly because he didn’t realise what had happened.
"He’s damaged it probably by playing straight away and taken two or three weeks to recover instead of one.
“If you look at any footballer, the specialists will tell you the only way to cure a hamstring injury is to rest and he hasn’t rested.
“Darren desperately wanted to play here, he had all his arrangements made and so had his parents so it’s a big disappointment all round.”