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Clarke sheds weight in new fitness drive

Darren Clarke's new fitness regime has been so successful that the Briton has had to shed his wardrobe of around 200 golf shirts and 100 pairs of trousers.

The 35-year-old Northern Irishman, bidding to make himself more competitive in major championships, has been working with former rugby league professional Steve Hampson for the last two months, losing 17 pounds (7.711 kilogram) in weight.

"He's been very, very good for me," Clarke told a news conference on Wednesday, ahead of this week's Volvo Masters at Valderrama.

""He's been very tough and stringent, and doing a lot of things with me -- diets, stretching, a little bit of boxing, all sorts of stuff.

"He's pushed me harder and harder every week, and he's going to go everywhere I'm going (for golf tournaments) between now and the end of the year," added the Briton, a burly professional who has a penchant for puffing cigars.

"But I'm down a neck-size now and I really had fun the other day. I probably removed about 100 pairs of trousers and 200 golf shirts from my home!"

Clarke, who lies second in the European order of merit going into the final event of the season, will be keeping one eye this week on the PGA Tour's Chrysler Championship.

The Ulsterman, who won the Volvo Masters at Montecastillo in 1998, is determined to qualify for next week's end-of-season Tour Championship in the United States for the leading 30 players.

"I'm 26th on the (U.S.) money list, so I need five people to pass me if I (am to) miss (out on playing), but it (the Chrysler Championship ) is a $4.8 million event," he said.

"But I really want to play in the Tour Championship because it's been a dream of mine, I've always wanted to play in it," added Clarke, who won the WGC-NEC Invitational at Akron, Ohio in late August.

"The gap between me and 30th position is not an awful lot. So, if I get in, I think I'll just sneak it. But, if I don't get into it, so be it. I've given it as good as go as I could do."

Clarke, who has produced eight top-10 finishes in 17 European Tour starts this season, is one of 57 players contesting the 16th Volvo Masters at par-72 Valderrama.

World number two Ernie Els, 2001 U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and Australia's Peter Lonard are the sole absentees from Europe's top 60.

Els has already clinched the 2003 European order of merit, so the main incentives for this week's elite field are a first prize of $690,256 and the prestige of clinching the European Tour's grand finale.

Exemptions for two of next year's major championships are also up for grabs.

The top 20 players in the season-ending order of merit earn a place in next year's British Open at Royal Troon, while the top 15 also qualify for the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

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