Clarkes Eye on Fitness Majors

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04 Mercedes ChampionshipsKAPALUA, Hawaii -- Darren Clarke rolled up hhis sleeve and proudly displayed a nicotine patch on his shoulder.
 
This is a new year, and Clarke is a changed man.
 
Along with giving up cigarettes on the golf course and Guinness in the pub, the 35-year-old from Northern Ireland is dedicated to getting in shape and getting the most out of his game.
 
'The whole thing is to try to improve, give myself a better chance of winning majors,' Clarke said.
 
This isn't the first time Clarke, a burly man with a zest for living, has promised to get in shape. He has flirted with fitness, but the exercise equipment only collected dust.
 
He started late last year, and the results were noticeable at the Tour Championship, when he looked slimmer around the waist and boasted about getting a new wardrobe.
 
When he showed up in Hawaii, he had lost 30 pounds.
 
'No beer, no nicotine,' Clarke said. 'I don't know what's going on, really.'
 
Some believe this dedication is overdue.
 
Clarke has won 11 times on the European Tour. His two victories on the PGA Tour came at the World Golf Championships, the 2000 Accenture Match Play Championship and the NEC Invitational last year. He was in contention twice at the British Open, in 1997 at Royal Troon and in 2001 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
 
When Clarke held the first-round lead at the Masters, not many expected it to hold up because players were trying to go 54 holes over two days in soggy conditions -- a tough, long walk.
 
Clarke followed his 66 with rounds of 76-78-74.
 
No one is more to delighted to see the changes than Tiger Woods, a close friend who lost to Clarke, 5 and 4, in the 36-hole final of the Match Play Championship.
 
'He had a tough time. He beat me pretty easily in the final, but he was really tired,' Woods said. 'I said, 'Darren, granted you beat the crap out of me that day, but you should not be that tired.' With his schedule, playing in Europe, playing in the States, he's going to run out of energy.'
 
Woods said most people make the mistake of simply losing weight.
 
'Darren is doing it the proper way,' Woods said. 'He's doing it through nutrition as well as exercise. I saw him working with his trainer. He was working pretty hard. It's good to see.'
 
Clarke said he lost some hand-eye coordination with the new physique; he finished last in a field of 16 players at the Target World Challenge last month. Still, he found the two-week break to be helpful.
 
Best of all, walking the steep hills of the Plantation course at Kapalua didn't make him the least bit tired. And when his first round of the Mercedes Championships was over Thursday -- a 6-under 67 -- he had no craving for a cigarette, a cigar or a pint of Guinness.
 
'I'm just trying to do the right thing on a regular basis,' he said.
 
That doesn't mean he still doesn't enjoy himself.
 
'Wine and gin, all sorts of stuff,' he said. 'But no beer.'
 
AWARDS: The late Mark McCormack, whose handshake with Arnold Palmer led to the creation of IMG and revolutionized sports management, has been honored by the Golf Writers Association of America with the William D. Richardson award for outstanding contributions to golf.
 
McCormack, who died in May at age 72, turned IMG into the most powerful management company in golf, with clients ranging from Palmer to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods.
 
He also spurred the growth of the European Tour, and he was responsible for the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
Fred Funk received the Jim Murray Award, given to a player for cooperation, quotability and accommodation to the media. Previous winners of the award were Nick Price and Arnold Palmer.
 
SAME BALL, DIFFERENT NAME: Jim Furyk has a new hat and a new logo on his bag, but nothing else about his equipment has changed this year.
 
It's all part of Callaway Golf acquiring Top-Flite Golf Co. last fall for $174.4 million.
 
Furyk has the Top-Flite logo on his bag (instead of Hogan) and on his cap (instead of Strata). He continues to play the same Strata ball, only it will be called the Top-Flite Strata.
 
'That's what it was called when (Mark) O'Meara won the Masters,' Furyk said. 'I think it's a new strategy, because Top-Flite is the name brand that people recognize.'
 
Callaway spokesman Larry Dorman said European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer also will have Top-Flite logos.
 
'It's a more consistent way to brand the players who are using products made by Top-Flite,' Dorman said.
 
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton will continue with Hogan logos.
 
Top-Flite also owned the Hogan brand; Sutton, Langer and Furyk all use Hogan irons.
 
IN THE BAG: Fred Couples has added a new piece of equipment this year -- a 5-wood.
 
Couples, a power player in his prime, swapped out a 2-iron for the 5-wood and made no apologies.
 
'I feel like I'm 50, and I'm going to start using a 5-wood,' the 44-year-old Couples said. 'I can't hit a 2-iron. I don't even want to try.'
 
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