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RYDER CUP NOTES

Clarke Is Back to Work

September 20, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

STRAFFAN, Ireland — There may be no more sympathetic figure in the Ryder Cup this week than Darren Clarke, who said he wanted to play even though his wife, Heather, died of cancer last month. Clarke said it was a difficult choice.

"I wouldn't have played if I didn't think that I could benefit the team and that was the bottom line," said Clarke, picked by captain Europe captain Ian Woosnam. "I know Heather would have wanted me to play, so I made myself available."

Heather Clarke, 39, was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks after the 2004 Ryder Cup.

"So it's not something that has happened out of the blue," Clarke said of her death. "I knew it was going to happen, as most people do in that situation. I was thinking about it the more ill that she got and I came to the decision that I think is the right one.

"It's a dreadful disease and it's hard."

Woosnam said he had no questions about Clarke's state of mind.

"Darren Clarke is fine. Darren is in a great mood," he said. "He's just looking forward to this match and he's just in a terrific mood. He's playing in front of his Irish fans and I have no worries about Darren Clarke at all."

Clarke, 38, from Northern Ireland, is 7-7-3 and playing in the Ryder Cup for the fifth time. He wasn't sure if resuming his pro golf career -- he tied for 31st at Madrid last week -- was actually a tonic.

"I don't know if it's a release or not, but it is getting me back to reality," he said. "It's me getting back to what I did before. Certainly now my priorities are with my kids, but I have to get back to work at some stage and I am here to try and compete and play in the tournament.... "

Clarke has two children, Tyrone, 8, and Conor, 5. Both are in school this week.

Clarke said he received several text messages and phone calls from Tiger Woods.

"He is the best player in the world, but he is also a very good friend and it's nice to know that Tiger, and the other players, have given me so much support," Clarke said.

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If Tom Lehman was tipping his hand with his Tuesday pairings, he certainly didn't hide when he sent six groups out at the K Club in the morning. There didn't seem to be any surprises: Woods-Jim Furyk; Chris DiMarco-Phil Mickelson; Vaughn Taylor-Zach Johnson; Scott Verplank-Brett Wetterich; David Toms-Chad Campbell and Stewart Cink-J.J. Henry.

Lehman was coy about the chances of the same teams playing together again Friday: "I think they have a very good chance of playing golf together."

Woosnam used teams of Colin Montgomerie-David Howell; Paul Casey-Luke Donald; Robert Karlsson-Henrik Stenson; Jose Maria Olazabal-Sergio Garcia; Padraig Harrington-Paul McGinley and Clarke-Lee Westwood.

Said Woosnam of his pairings: "I don't think you can read too much into that."

Olazabal, 40, is making his seventh Ryder Cup appearance, but his first since 1999 when he was 1-0-2 and the U.S. won for the only time in the last five matches. Olazabal is 15-8-5 but only 1-4-1 in singles.

He said he doesn't think Europe is the simple choice as favorite. "It's not going to be an easy task for us," the two-time Masters champion said. "I think the people that are suggesting that we are stronger than they are, I think they are not completely right."

*

As part of Lehman's plan to keep his team loose, he asked his players to sing their school fight songs individually Monday night.

"It was really embarrassing and it was worse because some of us, including myself, didn't really know all the words," said Verplank, who went to Oklahoma State. "That was really funny, I can tell you that."

The best singer? "Well, [Lehman's] a pretty good singer. He's pretty raspy, but he got up there and barked out the Minnesota Gophers song."

And Woods? "He kind of bailed out when it got kind of rowdy. He came up, he snuck off and signed all the autographs for all our stuff, but when we all got back to the team room, we put him on the spot and made him sing to us. He wasn't good and he didn't like doing it. I wouldn't recommend he go to a recording studio or anything like that."

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thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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