Clarke set for rankings charge

Darren Clarke is targeting a return to the world’s top-50 with pre-Christmas ranking points bonanza.

The Ulsterman, 40, tees it up in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai ranked 62nd in the world and guaranteed starts in two of next season’s majors.

But with the Singapore, Australian and South African Opens to come, he plans to book his spot in the Masters and the US PGA by finishing the season back where he believes he belongs.

All set for blast off in the Race to Dubai, Clarke said: "It was great to finish off last week knowing officially I am into the US Open and The Open next year though it was just disappointing not to have got myself in a position at the Volvo Masters to contend.

"I’ve won twice this year but 13th on the money list is not where I wanted to finish. At least it's got me into two Majors next season plus I'm into the WGC event in Doral.

"Not playing any of the Majors this year certainly hurt my Ryder Cup chances because if you are going to make a Ryder Cup team you really have to be playing in all four Majors.

"But everything is now heading in the right direction and the goal now in the few weeks remaining this year is to get back inside the top-50 that would get me into the other two Majors."

Clarke joins world No 2 Phil Mickelson, triple Major winner Padraig Harrington and Irish stars Graeme McDowell, Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane in the elite HSBC Champions, which kicks off the European Tour’s new Race to Dubai.

But it’s only the first of a poker of aces he has up his sleeve as he continues his amazing comeback from the golfing doldrums.

Ranked 225th in the world at the start of the year, he won the BMW Asian Open and the KLM Dutch Open to edge closer to the world’s top-50.

Next week’s Singapore Open will also feature a star-studded field and Clarke then plans to head to Sydney for the first time in 12 years to pile on more points in the Australian Open before finishing off a memorable year in the South African Open at Pearl Valley.

Clarke said: “It's been a long time, a very long time since I was last in Australia and also in Sydney, so I'm looking forward to the trip.

"I've spoken to Peter O'Malley about Royal Sydney and though it's not the longest he said you have to play smart and it's a great venue for the event.

"But I'm playing the Australian Open for two reasons.  Firstly, I haven't been down to Australia for such a long time and secondly it's a national Open so therefore it carries more world-ranking points than other tournaments.

“That's why I am also playing the South African Open the week after so I'm playing two national Opens back-to-back and hopefully I can then head home for Christmas well up on the rankings.”

Harrington hopes to regain his world No 3 spot in Shanghai after slipping to fifth since he landed the US PGA title in August.

But Spanish Open winner Peter Lawrie and Volvo China Open champion Damien McGrane are determined to get back in the winner’s circle again after their maiden wins in 2008.

Planning to improve his fitness and preparation over the winter, Lawrie said: “It was great to win a tournament but I was a little disappointed with my other results. When you sit down for your Christmas dinner you want more than just turkey - you want all the trimmings as well.

“In a sense, I’ve been lazy. I’m stubborn and having found a way that allowed me to become a winner on Tour, now I have to find another way that will permit me to push on, to improve.”

McGrane also failed to push on after his breakthrough win last March, but has no plans to make major changes in his game.

The Knightsbrook man said: “When I did well, I did really well. But after that I was all over the place. Once I achieved something, I was looking to press on. It is disappointing I suppose because I kept doing the same things week in and week out. I didn't really progress.

“It was nice to get the win. I thought I was close and felt that I could grab one of my opportunities. I managed to grab one of them. I was happy enough with that. It is something I have been trying to do for the last four seasons.

“There is no point in changing things. I am not going to change who I am or what I am at this stage. I will take it as it comes and see if the ball goes into the hole or not.”