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Top Europeans tee up at British Masters

Britain's golfing heavyweights Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood have slimmed down and are hoping their diets will prove the recipe for success in the British Masters starting on Thursday.

Clarke famously beat Tiger Woods in the 2000 Matchplay World Golf Championship and Westwood bettered the world number one in the Tournament Players Championship of Europe the same year on his way to becoming European number one.

They are keen to get a major under their belt, though, and have decided to improve their fitness and diet -- something Gary Player advised them to do several years ago -- with Clarke so far having shed 44lbs and Westwood 30lbs.

Clarke is number three in Europe despite only playing four counting events on the money-list and missing the cut in two.

His third places in the latest Matchplay-WGC and the Hong Kong Open have given him another chance to be number one in Europe and his bid would be boosted by the near $500,000 first prize on offer at the Forest of Arden course this week.

With two third places and a sixth on the U.S. Tour this year as well, Clarke has felt the benefit of his new regime and the shrinking Briton hopes to make it a hat-trick of wins on a course where he has won two English Opens.

Synchronising his swing to accommodate the weight loss is now his priority.

"I'm pretty happy where I am with my weight at the moment as long as I can keep on doing what I have been doing these past seven months," Clarke said on Wednesday.

"As far as the swing goes, I'm starting to feel a lot better, although I said that after the first round of the Masters and then went out and did what I did."

Clarke shot a 70 in the first round at Augusta but just missed the cut after a seven over par second round of 79.

"I'm persevering and one day it's all going to fall into place," he added.

Clarke is playing with a new caddie, British doyen Pete Coleman who was Bernhard Langer's mainstay for two decades.

"I'm very excited about working with him and in the past couple of days his experience has already shown and his ability to club me," added Clarke. "I look for somebody to put the club in my hand."

Westwood has lost weight by eating high protein meat substitutes and has enjoyed such a lift from his better diet and fitness that he is being sponsored by a well-known meat substitute company for two years.

After ending three years in the wilderness since his heady 2000 with two wins last year, Westwood, lying 64th in Europe and with only moderate performances on the U.S. Tour, is aiming to prove he really is back.

"I saw the benefits Darren was getting and I've felt like I needed to do something for a long time," said Clarke's management stablemate.

"The great thing is, I've lost all this weight and on the (Reuters) statistics I'm (driving) 10-15 yards longer."

Westwood has also changed his caddie and is now using Howard Clark's Ryder Cup bagman John Graham.

Colin Montgomerie, another Forest of Arden winner, did not make an appearance at the midlands of England course on Wednesday, giving the pro-am a miss and thus avoiding media attention following the split with his wife Eimear.

Defending champion Greg Owen of Britain has had a cortisone injection in his spine to help relieve a trapped nerve caused by a disc fragment that has given him pain in his left leg but has nevertheless pronounced himself fit to play.

A strong field includes 2001 U.S. Open champion and double European money-list winner Retief Goosen.

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