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Darren Clarke to return at Madrid Open

Darren Clarke, out of action since the British Open at Hoylake in July, returns to competitive golf in this week's Madrid Open.

The 38-year-old from Northern Ireland, whose wife Heather died of cancer last month, will try to play his way into form ahead of Europe's Ryder Cup defence at the K Club in Ireland which starts on Sept. 22.

Inspiration for Clarke has come in recent weeks in the form of thousands of messages of goodwill and support.

"I had absolutely no idea just how Heather's death had touched so many people," he told his official Web site. "Hundreds, going into thousands, of messages, cards and e-mails have been flooding in since Heather passed away.

"It will be impossible to send a personal message to everybody because it would take years but I would just like to say to you all just how much I appreciate your kind words and thoughts during this most difficult of times."

Clarke, chosen alongside his good friend Lee Westwood as captain Ian Woosnam's two Ryder Cup wildcard picks, will be joined in Madrid by European team mates Padraig Harrington and Jose Maria Olazabal.

Harrington, Olazabal and Clarke are among the most experienced players in the side, having picked up a combined 33-1/2 points in previous Ryder Cup matches.

"The household has had to start anew and I have been occupying my time with (my sons) Tyrone and Conor as we all readjust our lives," said Clarke.

"I haven't neglected my golf totally during the enforced absence from the game and I've been hitting balls a bit and I'm looking forward to returning to the game."

Among Clarke's rivals this week are Woosnam and former Ryder Cup captains Severiano Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer.

Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, overlooked for a wildcard pick, British pair Ian Poulter and Paul Lawrie, Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Swede Niclas Fasth are also chasing the first prize of 166,000 euros.

The tournament, with a total prize fund of one million euros, starts on Thursday.

September 12, 2006


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