Darren Clarke hopes some fun in the South African sun will help his bid to return to Augusta.

The Ulsterman, 42, begins the new season in next week’s Africa Open in East London. And his first goal is to return to the Masters for the first time since 2007 by getting back into the world’s top 50 before April.

Still a lowly 98th in the world, Clarke said: “It’s been two years since I won but I am determined to break back and I hope the Africa Open will give me the kind of kick start it did in 2009.

“It’s always great to start the season with a solid result and I’m looking forward to getting on the right track in East London.”

South Africa has been a happy hunting ground for Clarke, who won the Dimension Data Pro-Am in 2001.

In 2008 he roared back to form after coming  fourth in the Joburg Open and third at the South African Open.

He went on to win twice on the European Tour that season, triumphing in the BMW Asian Open and the KLM Open in Holland.

Those wins weren’t enough to earn him a Ryder Cup wildcard from Nick Faldo and he had a poor 2009 despite starting the year with a share of second in the Africa Open.

The 2010 season was slightly better for Clarke, who is set to re-marry following the tragic loss of his first wife Heather to cancer in 2006.

The Ulsterman recently popped the question to former Miss Northern Ireland Alison Campbell and admits he’s happier than ever after moving back to Ulster this year.

He won once last term, taking the JP McManus Pro-Am in Limerick before going on to finish second in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.

But while he failed to record another top 10, he’s determined to continue his climb back to the top after returning to the world’s top 100.

His 30th place finish in the Race to Dubai standings wasn’t quite what he had in mind but at least it guaranteed him a place in the Open at Sandwich next July.

Now the former world No 8 is determined to earn more major starts and he’s determined to get back into the top 50 and earn his first Masters start for four years.

One of Colin Montgomerie’s Ryder Cup assistants at Celtic Manor, Clarke said: “I have enjoyed starting my season with the Africa Open the last two years.

“In 2009 I had a pretty good result and 2010 sparked a return to form for me, so I’m really looking forward to playing in East London.

“It will be fun catching up with everyone again. Hopefully this time, I will be on the winning side of the final putt.”

Clarke will be joined in the Africa Open by fellow Ulsterman Gareth Maybin, two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, defending champion Charl Schwartzel and reigning Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.

Maybin will remain in South Africa for the Joburg Open the following week, where he will be joined by three-time Ryder Cup winner Paul McGinley.

Dubliner McGinley, 44, crashed 226 places to 448th in the world in 2010 as he battled to recover from a sixth operation on his left knee.

The hero of the 2002 Ryder Cup finished 123rd on the money list with his best finish a share of 14th at the Irish Open in Killarney

He could have lost his card but gets to play in 2011 as he’s 20th in the Career Money List with €10.5m.