You name it – Guinness, cigars, butties, vin rouge – Darren Clarke has given it up over the past few months. But although the svelte Ulsterman revels in his new clean-living lifestyle, Major ambitions still weigh heavily.

The only thing remotely flabby about Darren Clarke these days is the name of his manager, the effervescent Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler, for the former good-time boy of the Tour has managed to shed nearly three stone as part of his belated attempt to join the ranks of Major winners.

Out went pints of the black stuff and trips to the pub, in came sensible eating and trips to the gym. Clarke has never hidden his liking for the good things in life, so when he started on his weight-loss programme last year it was easy to hear the more cynical members of the press box scoffing in more ways than one. Clarke would have been the first to join them for a butty and a glass of red courtesy of the sponsors, but those days are gone.

By the time this season’s European Tour launched – bizarrely in December and, even more bizarrely, in Hong Kong – he was looking 10 times fitter and went on to finish third to Padraig Harrington with four rounds in the 60s. And he was definitely no longer worthy of the nickname ‘Double F’ that Tiger Woods and coach Butch Harmon had bestowed on him (work it out for yourself).

The weight loss has had all the expected good effects on the Irishman fitness-wise although his wardrobe has changed a bit. Clarke had to throw out more than 200 shirts and 100 pairs of trousers as the equivalent of 90 packs of butter fell off his once ample frame and turned up in the opening round of The Masters wearing a pair of shocking pink and white striped strides. The garb rather took the casual spectator’s attention away from his card which, after 18 holes, had a 70 at the bottom of it.

Unfortunately for his many backers, hoping to cash in at the bookies from a first Clarke Major victory, he followed up with a 79 and was out of the tournament.

Despite this ricket, Clarke will be prominent in the layers’ lists for the remaining big tournaments in 2004 and his high position is testament to the superb career he has forged for himself, having started the game at the age of 11 on the harsh links courses of Northern Ireland.

Within two years, the young Clarke was playing to a handicap of three and turned professional in 1990. He won his first title in the paid ranks two years later when he took the Ulster Professionals Championship and his first big Tour victory came in the 1993 Alfred Dunhill Open. By the time the 1997 Ryder Cup came round, Clarke was one of a number of younger players challenging the established European giants like Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam and he was part of the winning side at Valderrama.

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