Clarke to Defend at Dimension Data


Sunshine TourIrishman Darren Clarke rose to prominence in world golf in February 2000 by first beating the then-No. 2 world-ranked David Duval in the semi-finals of the WGC-Andersen Consulting Match Play, then defeating Tiger Woods in the final.
At the time, executive chairman of Dimension Data Jeremy Ord proved that he had made yet another very astute business decision - his company had recently signed a sponsorship deal with Clarke. As the world looked on, Clarke gratefully accepted the $1 million winner's cheque - his visor bearing the recognizable Dimension Data logo.
At last year's Dimension Data Pro-Am, Clarke fittingly won his benefactors event at Sun City, edging out Retief Goosen. But if the big-hitting Clarke hopes to again win the event sponsored by the company whose name is emblazoned on his headgear, he will have to produce his best form.
Besides having to beat a quality field, Clarke's last showing in Sun City in December at the 'Million' was hardly encouraging - following a strict protein diet prior to the event had robbed him of energy.
Clarke did set a final 36-hole record in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 1999 (rounds of 64 and 65) at the Gary Player Country Club, and has a liking for the layout, so one might expect him to put up a stout defense of his title.
There is no shortage of serious contenders in the battle to lift the handsome trophy - a bronze fish eagle sculpted by renowned artist Keith Calder, and for the lessor lights, the $27,517 winner's check is a huge incentive to come to grips with both courses at Sun City and upstage the big guns.
Nick Price, returning to one of his favourite and most lucrative haunts, together with Goosen, who has enjoyed a stellar period since finishing as runner-up last year, will be obvious favorites to prevent Clarke from completing back-to-back titles.
Lee Westwood, the Dimension Data champion in 2000, must also be factored in as a threat to his stable-companion (Westwood and Clarke share the same manager, Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler), and the evergreen Mark McNulty is also due to triumph soon - a Sunshine Tour without the Zimbabwean winning is almost unthinkable.
Recently crowned Dunhill Championship winner, Justin Rose, cannot be discounted, nor can Martin Maritz - a most exciting prospect who seems to have all the credentials to set him on the road to golfing stardom.
Irishman Paul McGinley and Englishman Ian Poulter will also feature amongst the top players lining up to deny Clarke a successful defense at Sun City.
By far the biggest Pro-Am event played on the African subcontinent, with two full fields playing over both the Lost City and GPCC courses, the Dimension Data event also boasts a field of amateurs who represent the who's who of South Africa's business world.
When this event was launched six years ago, it was seemingly based on the Pebble Beach concept, but while the Californian pro-am features stars of stage and screen, it is captains of commerce and industry that join the pros in Sun City.
However, the lineup of amateurs will star former Celtic, Liverpool and Scotland soccer legend, Kenny Dalglish, who made 102 international appearances for Scotland. Other amateurs teeing it up with Dalglish are ex-Springboks Nick Mallet, Schalk Burger, and Morne du Plessis.
With only two tournaments remaining before the summer season is wound up after the Dimension Data, the Nashua Masters and the Tour Championship, the all-important Order of Merit race could take a few interesting twists and turns.
On the revitalised Gary Player Country Club (the course is back to its best after problems this time last year) we can expect a thrilling spectacle. Picking a winner is difficult, but we can safely predict that trading on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange will be light during the event, as most of the gentlemen with the large share portfolios will be concentrating on their golf games.