Darren Clarke has spent the past two weeks in the Bahamas, sunning himself with his sons on the white sands as they enjoyed their first holiday together for two years.

Clarke's last victory came nearly a year ago.The day job called him away on Monday, to New York, where he entertained his sponsors Barclays Capital before arriving in Akron for what he thought would be a one-week US engagement in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone near Akron in Ohio.

Imagine his delight then when a call came through from PGA of America headquarters in Palm Beach on Monday night, telling him that he was invited to take part in next week’s US PGA Championship at Hazeltine National in Chaska Minnesota.

“Fantastic. It’s a big boost and nice to get back into the majors again,” said Clarke, who sounded like a man who had just been rescued from a desert island. “I am really excited because I didn’t know what I was going to do next week.

“I remember Rich Beem winning at Hazeltine in 2002 and the golf course was brilliant. Really, really good. It was very fair, which was great.”

There was a time that Darren Clarke based his entire season around the four majors but since his wife Heather passed away in August 2006, he has played in just six and made the cut in only two of them.

Ranked 109th in the latest world rankings, his participation in the final major of the season was always going to depend on the largesse of the organisers, who traditionally boast that they have the strongest field in golf with the top 100 players in the world rankings teeing it up.

But just a week away from his 41st birthday, Clarke’s future as a potential major winner is very much up for debate.

He was once the highest ranked European in the world rankings, but there are now 28 Europeans ahead of him, including two Ulstermen; Rory McIlroy (26th) and Graeme McDowell (48th). A third, Gareth Maybin, is now 115th and threatening to win on tour any day now.

Clarke insists that he is playing better and hitting the ball with more authority than he ever has.

Better than last year, when he won twice but still failed to get a Ryder Cup wildcard from Nick Faldo?

“Oh yeah,” he insisted. “Miles better. My ball striking is better, much better. I’ve changed the shaft in the driver, which has helped enormously and the short game is good."

The problem appears to be that the flesh is willing, but the putter is weak.

“I haven’t been rolling in enough putts," Clarke said. "I have been hitting good putts but just not holing anything at all which has been very frustrating. My game is good enough."

"Ask him,” he added, pointing to his caddie, John Graham.

With Clarke well out of earshot, Graham insists that Clarke is now striking the ball better than he was when he first carried the bag for the Ulsterman 15 years ago.

“He’s class right the way through the bag now and plays a lot more shots than he used to play,” said Graham.

The problem, as Graham has seen first hand, is that Clarke has failed to consistently string four rounds together this year. In the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond a final round 77 sent him plummeting from 13th to 41st.

In the following week’s Open at Turnberry, he opened with a pair of 71s but blew his chances with a 79 on Saturday before finishing with a 69.

“That’s what I have been doing,” Clarke confessed. “I have been throwing in the odd poor one here and there and that is what I have got to try and stop. If I was being lazy and not working hard, I could accept that. But I am working as hard as ever because I still want to succeed as much as ever."

Firestone should bring out the best in Clarke, who won the title by four shots here in 2003 before coming home sixth behind Vijay Singh last year.

Singh has won 22 times since he turned 40, including the 2004 US PGA. And a man who turned 30 just last week believes that Clarke should have won a lot more than he has in his career.

“Darren, with his talent and his game, Darren should have won more events and, maybe, won a major,” said McDowell. “But ‘coulda woulda shoulda’. It’s that kind of game. It’s a fine line. He has put himself in plenty of winning positions to get across the line and made a lot of money out of the game.

“The guy is a hell of a player and I am not going to sit down and criticise him about his game. He is probably one of the most talented ball strikers in the world.”

Next week Clarke will have another chance to prove the doubters wrong and a good week at Firestone could be just what he needs to stoke up the furnace of desire once more.