2006 has been a year of devastating lows and great highs for Darren Clarke, from the tragic death of his wife from breast cancer through to his emotional and inspirational appearance in Ireland as part of Ian Woosnam’s winning European Ryder Cup team. For obvious reasons it has been a year that Clarke will never forget and he is now hoping that his experiences throughout 2006 will make him mentally stronger ? and aid him considerably over the next couple of years as he attempts to win his first Major.

Clarke missed a large proportion of the 2006 season in order to care for Heather, who had bravely battled breast cancer for several years. As the summer wore on it became apparent that her condition was worsening, and Clarke abandoned life on the European Tour to nurse her through her final days. She lost her fight in early August and when Clarke teed up for Europe at The K Club in late September, as one of Woosnam’s wildcard picks, he had hardly hit a competitive golf ball in months. The atmosphere at the first tee on the Friday morning was laced with almost unprecedented emotion and, despite feeling predictably nervous, Clarke was able to get over the first hurdle ? making contact with his drive.

“It was a very pressurized situation for me,” he explained to Sky Sports News.

“This was because it was the Ryder Cup and because of what I had gone through in the weeks and months leading up to it. You are never quite sure the way things are going to go but I managed to get through it. I teed it up and somehow made pretty solid contact with the ball.”

It was a unique situation and an extremely difficult one for anyone to have to deal with, and Clarke is now hopeful that his successful navigation of such a high-pressure moment can help him add a first Major to his list of worldwide wins ? which includes the only European victory in a WGC event.

“Hopefully that shot will stand me in good stead for the future,” he predicted.

“I’m sure that there will be no situation in the days to come when I face more pressure, so if and when I get into contention for a Major again, then it will give me that extra bit of back-up and belief.”

Clarke added that he was hoping to make the next couple of Ryder Cups as a player, but revealed that he also dreamed of one day being named European captain. In addition to this he spoke of his unease at being named as favourite to receive the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in two weeks time, as he believes that people are voting for him out of sympathy rather than for his actual sporting achievements.

“Hopefully I have got a two or three good years left in me yet so I should be able to play again in the Ryder Cup,” said the 38 year-old.

“However, captaincy is something I definitely see in the future and I’d like to do it ? it would be an honour. I’ve played under five different captains and have learned a lot from all of them. I’ve noted a few things and noticed what they’ve done right, so hopefully I can use their expertise to do a good job.”

“In terms of the BBC award ? if people are voting for me because my wife passed away then I don’t feel comfortable with that. If I’d won a Major this year then I’d have no issues with it, but I haven’t. At the same time, if people want to vote for me because it’s ‘Personality of the Year’ then I can’t really turn it down – but there is a part of me that it doesn’t sit quite right with.”