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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Clarke relishing Ryder Cup return
Europe's Darren Clarke
We're trying to win but it's not life or death

Europe's Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke has insisted his focus is firmly on golf as he prepares to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup.

The 39-year-old played for the first time in two months at last week's Madrid Masters following the death of his wife Heather in August.

"I came to the conclusion that I would benefit the team after thinking about it long and hard," said Clarke.

"This is one of the biggest events in the world. We're here to compete and try to retain the Ryder Cup."

Clarke said the death of his wife, and the fact that Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco have lost parents this year, would help the match be played in the right spirit.

"We're trying to win but it's not life or death, which is what some of us have been through," said Clarke, who is considering bringing his two young sons to the opening ceremony on Thursday.

"There are more important things, but we're all professionals and - friendly as we are - we'll all try to beat each other when he stand at that first tee."

The Northern Irishman also said that he wanted to avoid the prospect of media interest in his participation overshadowing the Ryder Cup itself.

Europe captain Ian Woosnam backed Clarke to hit the ground running when the event gets under way at the K Club on Friday.

The winner always has to be the game itself

Europe's Jose Maria Olazabal

"He's up for it - with Darren it's just a matter of knocking in a couple of putts and he's ready," said Woosnam.

"He's had an emotional time. We spoke after he shot a 68 and he said it was very important to make a good score.

"I think he did very well last week.

"He hasn't played for a couple of months. We came here 10 days ago and played a round and he played some wonderful stuff."

US captain Tom Lehman echoed Woosnam's thoughts.

"I think it's a much better Ryder Cup with Darren playing," he said.

"Every man on our team is pleased and happy that he's playing. We all know what he's been through. There's been a lot of support for Darren over the last couple of years and he'll make the Europe team stronger."

Woosnam, who greeted Lehman and the US team at Dublin airport before meeting up with his own team, said he would not be reading too much into the excellent form of the likes of Paul Casey.

Europe captain Ian Woosnam
We'll play with pride, passion and honour but also with friendship and sportsmanship

Europe captain Ian Woosnam

Casey won the World Match Play event at a canter, while the likes of Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk crashed out in the last round.

"I take enthusiasm and it's great for us and gives us confidence but the Ryder Cup is totally different to the World Match Play," he said.

"Our side has come into form in the last few weeks which is great, but you don't know what will happen in the match.

"In the past I haven't been playing very well beforehand but have managed to produce at the Ryder Cup. Everyone raises their game for the Ryder Cup."

Woosnam, who will watch an "inspirational video" with his team on Monday evening, emphasised the need for the players to enjoy the pressure of the occasion and play the match in the right spirit.

"You're honoured and privileged to be in the team. You have to try to look at each other, look at the fans and try to enjoy it," said Woosnam.

"There will be millions of people around the world watching this and it's just a pleasure to play in.

RYDER CUP BLOG
Matt Slater, BBC Sport golf writer

"Win or lose, we're here to have fun. We'll play with pride, passion and honour but also with friendship and sportsmanship - that's what this contest is all about."

Spain's Jose Mara Olazabal played down any thoughts of revenge on his return to the European team for the first time since 1999.

Olazabal had a 20-foot putt at the 17th hole in his match against Justin Leonard at Brookline, but had his preparations affected by the US team's wild celebrations after Leonard holed.

"I know the atmosphere has been excellent and that's how these tournaments should be played - that type of approach is wrong and has been changed," said Olazabal.

"The atmosphere is the right one. The winner always has to be the game itself."



EUROPEAN RYDER CUP TEAM

 

SEE ALSO
Ryder Cup arrival photos
18 Sep 06 |  Golf
Ken Brown column
18 Sep 06 |  Golf


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