September 18, 2002
GORDON SIMPSON: Welcome to Mount Juliet. A man who know how it feels to win a WGC event. Welcome back. How do you feel?
DARREN CLARKE: It's a fantastic feeling this week, it's one of the best fields we've ever had. The course is in fantastic condition. They worked really hard. It's a been a long time since I've been back here. The first two years I was attached to here as the Tour professional and I haven't been back here since the Open in '95. They've made huge improvements to the course. They made the course even better than it was before.
Q. The greens are in terrific condition?
DARREN CLARKE: They're fantastic. They're really good.
Q. How about your game coming into this?
DARREN CLARKE: I've had a couple of weeks off, worked on a couple of things. I did my foundation work at Portmarnock with the kids, and after that I really haven't done a lot. I'm a little rusty. But I putted on the greens to get ready for this week and next week.
Q. This is the foundation you announced at Druids Glen?
DARREN CLARKE: Yes, we had 12 boys and four girls there. It was very successful. There's sure a lot more talent coming through now.
Q. Tiger was talking earlier, he reckoned Mount Juliet was the easier of the Jack Nicklaus courses and it will come down to what happens on the greens. You've had problems with your putter throughout the summer. What would you make of that?
DARREN CLARKE: The courses have tightened in the fairways by changing the grass, I believe, because they couldn't with the way the course was set up before, the way it was built, they couldn't grow the rough in because there was different grass in the rough than the fairway, so they have tightened it up, but certainly there are a lot of opportunities to make birdies and if it comes down to it, then it's always the guy who holes the most putts and gets up on and down. With the greens as good as they were, there will be guys making putts from 10-, 12 feet. I have been working hard on the putting green at home, spending a lot of time, just using my ruler, different things that I have to get a little bit better at, and it certainly feels a lot better. And hopefully I will get my stroke again.
Q. In terms of this event coming just before the Ryder Cup, did you it actually help to focus your mind on your game?
DARREN CLARKE: Next week is totally different. This is another big tournament, and it's one we want to try and win. After the majors, it's the World Golf Championships, and this one, obviously being stroke-play, is completely different. This is another individual week; next week it's an all different game.
Q. If you had a choice of winning the American Express Championship or the Ryder Cup, you only get one, which one would you take?
DARREN CLARKE: Thanks, Charlie. It would probably be being a part of the winning Ryder Cup team. That's the biggest highs that I've felt, but I would probably say winning the Ryder Cup team -- being a part of the winning Ryder Cup team.
There are more chances for winning World Golf Championships events than Ryder Cups.
Q. Is it the team element?
DARREN CLARKE: The team element is great. We're all pulling for each other as opposed to trying to beat each other. We don't get a chance to play team golf that often. It brings a different mentality to it. We all know each other's game so well that we all tend to pull it together and try to help each other the way we can.
Q. The past you've played with Colin Montgomerie, and more often than not with Lee Westwood. Do you know who you are going to play with next week?
DARREN CLARKE: I do, but I can't tell you. There's ideas, but they're not set in stone. We'll see what happens in the practice round.
Q. Do you think this tournament is good preparation for next week?
DARREN CLARKE: I don't think there is any preparation for next week. There is nothing that can prepare you for walking on that first tee. This is just another big tournament. It has no relevance to next week whatsoever.
Q. Will you be nervous next week?
DARREN CLARKE: Yes, I think everybody will be. Anybody that says they're not isn't telling the truth.
Q. What impact has the 12-month wait had on you and your fellow pros going into this Ryder Cup?
DARREN CLARKE: If you take a look out from team format, that's the obviously different. There are some guys that are playing a little bit bitter and a lot of guys aren't playing as well; that will be the only obvious difference. In terms of going to play the Ryder Cup, it hasn't made that much difference at all. We're all starting to really look forward to it, and it will be another great week against next week.
Q. The impacts of September 11th and the emotions, do they still play a part when you see your American counterparts?
DARREN CLARKE: I imagine they will. When we go to the opening ceremony next Thursday, there will be. I would imagine there will be reference made to the reason why it was postponed. I think it was the right thing to do, to postpone it last year, with respect to what happened. I think it will be raised again this year.
Q. Tiger was saying that the competitive edge has been taken away from the build-up a little bit to the Ryder Cup. Do you feel that from your point of view as well?
DARREN CLARKE: What do you mean? What competitive edge has been taken away?
Q. The build-up hasn't been the same. There hasn't been as much in the media, because of September 11th. Do you feel that from the European point of view as well?
DARREN CLARKE: Probably a little bit. Because the whole build-up to the Ryder Cup, there has been no taped selection this year. That's why there hasn't been as much hype about it as there has been in the past. I think whenever we get there and everybody starts, there will be a pretty competitive edge.
Q. Would you rather a longer build-up, where there is more hype, or is it better this way?
DARREN CLARKE: It doesn't make any difference, really, there's always going to be a bit of hype, especially come that week, especially come Friday morning.
Q. When we talk to the Europeans, they seem excited about next week. And when we talk to the Americans, it's much more (inaudible) is that your own sense of it?
DARREN CLARKE: That, I don't know. I think with the American team, they may not be so up for it at the moment, but whenever they get together there is a team, and when Curtis has them in the team room, and when the first team talks take place, I think they will be every bit as excited as we are.
Q. Were you encouraged by (inaudible)?
DARREN CLARKE: He played a little bit better. He's been working really hard and has spent many hours on the range. It paid off a bit at Sahalee. He missed the cut in Switzerland, and he seems to be starting to play a little bit better, and hopefully next week will raise his game.
Q. Darren Lee said recently that he wished people would stop talking about the Ryder Cup, and he wished the damn thing was over.
DARREN CLARKE: I had two weeks off so I haven't heard all that stuff, so I'm fine. There's always a lot of interest in it, and people are always going to want to talk about it. I've been fine. It doesn't bother me at all.
Q. You don't wish it was over?
DARREN CLARKE: No, not at all. I'm looking forward to it.
Q. You know this course really well. Pick out a couple of keyholes that you think are going to be really important this week?
DARREN CLARKE: I think the par 3s are going to be hugely important this week. They're all tough. And when you start tucking the pins away, if you short-side yourself it's going -- you're really going to struggle to get up and down. So I think the par 3s are going to be tough. If you play the par 3s well, then I think you'll have a chance.
Q. You won one of these World Golf Championship events two years ago. Do you think you've improved as a player sense then?
DARREN CLARKE: I don't know if I've improved or not. I've gotten a little bit older and allegedly a little bit wiser. But improved, I don't know. I've become a little bit more consistent, but I still haven't been able to turn that into the results that I want. A couple of years ago I would have hoped that particularly would have been a springboard onto bigger and better things. And unfortunately that hasn't happened. Not through lack of effort, but it hasn't materialized.
Q. Is it possible, Darren, to put your finger on the reason why it hasn't happened? Is it possible to work out why the putting hasn't gone so well?
DARREN CLARKE: You go through spells with things and you work with things on the range where things feel good. And I have periods of two or three month blocks where I play well, and this year I wasn't able to do it. And last year I wasn't able to do it either. I've put a lot of work into trying to figure things out. You get a little too technical when you do that, and it becomes difficult to go out and score as well as you can when you think about technique. I'll keep working, but I'll try to get more into scoring as opposed to thinking about my swing all the time.
Q. Was the Ryder Cup at Valderrama the most nerve-racking experience of your life. And what can you say to those who haven't been through it before?
DARREN CLARKE: I think it was the most nervous I've certainly ever be, going out to that first tee. I teed it up probably an inch and a half higher than I usually do to make sure I got it off the tee, and not kill people 40 yards off the left edge of the first tee.
GORDON SIMPSON: Did you hit a good tee shot?
DARREN CLARKE: I hit it in the middle of it. I don't think there is really anything you can say. The only thing you can say is, to realize that you're opponents are as every bit as nervous as you are. That's it. That's the only thing you can say. It's a complete different experience than anything we ever face.
Q. Would you agree with something Tiger just said, the actual days of practice are a totally wrong way to prepare for a big tournament? It's nothing like his normal routine and he wishes he could prepare in a normal way?
DARREN CLARKE: It's not a normal tournament, so therefore there's going to be different things that go on. The captains have to assess their players and decide which are the best pairings because of that. And we have to play quite a few practice rounds because we don't play as teams that often, so therefore they have to figure out the best way. And the only way we can do that is through practice rounds.
Q. And the social side?
DARREN CLARKE: There's a lot going on, a lot of things to do.
Q. Do you wish you weren't involved in all that?
DARREN CLARKE: Sometimes. You know how chaotic the week is. We're up very early in the morning working on things and then we have to go back and we have dinners to go to. It's difficult, but it's part and parcel to the Ryder Cup.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you, Darren. Good luck with this week.
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