'I am not here to make up the numbers. I am here to try and contend,' Clarke said Thursday after shooting a 4-under 68 in the first round of the Madrid Open. 'I set myself the goal to play well and I did that.'
Competing for the first time since the death of his wife, Heather, from cancer last month, Clarke is tied for ninth place after the first round. Next week, he will play in his fifth Ryder Cup as a captain's pick.
'Obviously I wanted to play well,' he said after making five birdies and a bogey. 'I didn't want to go out and shoot 73 or 74 and have you guys (journalists) on my case.'
Many of Clarke's teammates were playing at the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England, and they were happy to hear he did well Thursday.
'To play well this week and get a few competitive rounds under his belt, especially some rounds under par, will do him a lot of good,' said Luke Donald.
Clarke trails first-round leader Jean-Francois Lucquin by just three shots. When Clarke spoke Thursday, it was the first time he addressed the media since his wife's passing on August 13.
'I am pleased to shoot 68,' said Clarke, who had 31 putts in his round. 'I played well...I missed a lot of chances and played really well. With a warm putter I would have been an awful lot lower.
'The greens were just a little bit slow today. We all struggled on the greens today, it wasn't just me. The greens are a decent quality, but none of us got on a roll and holed many.'
Lucquin had 29 putts in his round and made eight birdies with just one bogey to shoot 7-under 65.
His last birdie came at the par-5 eighth -- his 17th hole -- and helped him take a one-shot lead over Darren Fichardt and Miguel Angel Martin, who had 6-under 66s to share second.
European Ryder Cupper Padraig Harrington shares fourth place with Joakim Backstrom, Ricardo Gonzalez, Gary Orr and Ian Poulter at 5-under 67.
Jose Maria Olazabal, the other European Ryder Cup player in the field, shot a 1-under 71 to share 48th place.
Defending champion Raphael Jacquelin, who won his first title here last year, is among five players who are tied for ninth with Clarke at minus-4.