Clarke set for Ryder Cup push

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke wants to turn his topsy-turvy world the right way up again by grabbing his sixth Ryder Cup cap this season.

But the super-talented Ulsterman knows that making Nick Faldo's side from a lowly 229th in the world rankings will rate as one of the biggest achievements of a storied career.

With a new love in his life and a spring in his step, the big Ulsterman has shown signs in recent months that his game is coming back.

Now he must convert those good feelings into birdies and victories as the Ryder Cup race enters its final five months.

Ready to tee it up in the €1 million Andalucia Open in Marbella this week, Clarke knows he can't rely on a 'Nick pick" for Kentucky.

Laying it on the line, Clarke said: "I have to get back up there. I want to qualify for the Ryder Cup, I want to be sure of playing. It has been a huge part of my career.

"I would hope my experience would stand me in good stead if I hadn't qualified, but if I am not playing well enough, it is completely irrelevant - Nick is not going to pick me anyway.

"And if I wasn't playing well enough, the first tee at Valhalla is the last place I would want to be."

Clarke's life has been turned upside down since his wife Heather lost her long battle with breast cancer just a month before the Ryder Cup at the K Club.

He choked back his emotions to win three matches out of three after landing a wildcard from skipper Ian Woosnam two years ago with his emotional singles win over Zach Johnson one of the sporting highlights of the decade.

But after a forgettable 2007 campaign, Clarke is miles outside the reckoning for a place on the side bidding to win for the fourth time in a row at Valhalla in September.

His world ranking has plummeted to 224th and at 39, Clarke knows that he must hit the ground running over the next five months to battle his way into Faldo's masterplan.

Reflecting on his troubles, Clarke said: "It has been four years of a very difficult time, your life turned upside down.

"I am not the only person it is going to happen to, but my job dictates that you have to be very focused and selfish to get where you want to and my mind has not been able to do that for a long time.

"But it is getting back. It is there now. I'd slipped down the ladder and now I'm coming back, just a little slower than I'd like."

Clarke came close to grabbing a fairytale win in last month's Malaysian Open but faded over the closing holes as he went for broke and paid the price with a rash of bogeys.

He finished up tied for 10th for his third top-10 finish since December's South African Open.

And with new girlfriend Kerry Schiller adding more stability to his life and his kids more settled than ever, he feels ready to make a major breakthrough this year.

He said: "I am not content just to tick over making the cut, finishing twentieth every week. I want to be remembered for victories.

"I know I keep saying that, but it is true - I am swinging better than ever. I am working away and there are so many good things happening to me."

Sons Tyrone, 10, and Conor, 8, are older now and Clarke feels he can play a busier schedule without neglecting his duties as a parent.

He explained: "I have got great people at home helping me out and that makes it a lot easier for me. And the kids are getting older and it is easier to talk and keep in touch.

"They can watch me on the TV, ring me and say, ‘Well done, Daddy.' My boys are much happier now, they're moving on with things as best we can."