From Brian Keogh in Detroit
Darren Clarke plans to let his hair down with a massive 40th birthday knees up in Donegal next week.
But pal Lee Westwood reckons far from being a spent force, the Dungannon giant is close to his vintage best and major contender for US PGA glory and his sixth Ryder Cup cap.
Joking about Clarke’s 40th, Westwood said: “It's a touchy subject. I wouldn't go anywhere near him with that subject at the moment.
“Golf wise he's in great nick. He is very much a confidence player and he is starting to play well at the right time.
“That's one of his goals for the year, getting into the Ryder Cup team. Looking at the standings, it is still not beyond the bounds of probability that he could qualifying automatically with one big week.
“And with picks on the horizon it doesn't do any harm to play well in these tournaments, especially playing well in the States with the Ryder Cup in the States.
"He has got a lot of experience with five Ryder Cups and if you look at the team and the players that are in the qualification spots now, we are short of a bit of experience so he would fit that bill.”
Westwood pointed to Clarke’s brilliant driving as a massive advantage at Oakland Hills where six-inch rough will severely punish the wayward.
Westwood said: “He says he is driving the ball well and anyone who is driving the ball good and long will have a big advantage this week because the rough a lot more demanding than it was last week.”
Clarke didn’t get to use his driver much when he visited Donegal for his stag party more than ten years ago.
And he can’t wait to get back there to celebrate his 40th birthday on August 14 by playing golf and downing a few beers with his pals.
Clarke said: “I love Donegal and have lots of great memories of family holidays there. We had a caravan back then but it’s only going to be 15 minutes on a chopper from Portrush this time.
“I plan to play some golf with some friends, have some beers, go to bed, wake up and then do some more celebrating.”
Murvagh is one of Clarke’s favourite links courses and he recalls how his pals forced him to use a sand wedge off the tee during his last game of golf as a bachelor.
He said: “It’s one of the great links courses in Ireland and I remember they made me tee off on all the par fives with a sand iron. It took some doing to get past the ladies tees.”