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Darren Clarke turns to rugby trainer to put paunch in past

By James Corrigan

When one thinks of Darren Clarke the physique of a Courtney Lawes does not spring to mind. But as he sets out on a new campaign, the 43-year-old has employed the England rugby team's sports scientist and is obeying a similar monastic lifestyle to the lock and his Red Rose colleagues.

Jonathan Bloomfield, an integral part of the England coaching staff, has signed up to become the Open champion's full-time fitness advisor as Clarke at last makes the commitment his management believe is critical if he is to build on last year's major breakthrough.

Bloomfield, a fellow Ulsterman who is based in Belfast and has also worked with the Ulster rugby team, was recommended by Lee Westwood's fitness guru. Steve McGregor was enlisted with finding the right person to inspire a character, famous for his paunch and love of Guinness, into gym action.

Bloomfield has certainly been working Clarke hard since linking up at the start of the year and the effect will already be noticeable when he tees it up in today's first round of the Volvo Golf Champions event in Fancourt, South Africa.

"I am a lean, mean fighting machine," said Clarke, himself a promising back-rower in his teens. Yet the biggest change will not be discernible. For the first time in his long career, Clarke will be wearing contact lenses. Bloomfield even tested Clarke's eyesight and discovered an imperfection which showed why he may have a propensity for missing putts on the left. This has been a total overhaul.

"My career has been extended by winning the Open and I just thought 'enough is enough' – it's time to get myself in better shape," explained Clarke. "Jonny's got me doing all sorts in the gym, having my eyes checked out, nutrition etc. Therefore my alcohol consumption is taking a massive dint... it's currently down to zero."

Clarke is also trying to quit smoking as well as cut down on a ferocious caffeine habit. So much for all those whispers that Clarke was happy to sit back and enjoy the life of a major winner. "I have gone on diets and had exercise regimes before but not to the extent of having the experience of the guy who is with me now and all these scientific methods," said Clarke, who went on to explain how the benefits may be as much mental as physical.

Despite realising his boyhood dream, Clarke finished last year deeply despondent with golf and fearful that he will never be able to replicate his Sandwich heroics. Contrary to his public image, Clarke has always been obsessive about practice and this compulsion turned detrimental amid all the frustration. A challenge for Bloomfield – who will have to decide whether it is possible to fulfil both his England and Clarke commitments – will be to limit Clarke's exhaustive and destructive sessions.

"Jonny will get me off the range and into the gym instead of spending too many hours beating my head against a brick wall," said Clarke. "This [fitness route] has worked for Lee and it is something I am taking very seriously."

Clarke will be hoping for a quick start in the limited event on the Western Cape. Only 35 players line up in a field comprising winners on the European Tour last year, as well as players who have 10 or more titles on their Tour résumé.

Players such as Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy have elected to begin their campaigns in Abu Dhabi next week, but with the likes of Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els and the England wonderkid Tom Lewis, competition will be tough for the near £300,000 first prize on a spectacular links layout.

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