Mixed day for veterans in Durban
8:00am Friday 10th January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Ryder Cup hopefuls Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez had an uphill battle on their hands to join fellow veterans Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie in contention for the Volvo Golf Champions on Friday.
While Clarke carded a 69 and Montgomerie a 70 to lie just two and three shots respectively off the lead held by Raphael Jacquelin, Bjorn and Jimenez found themselves propping up the elite 36-man field at Durban Country Club.
Jimenez chipped in for a birdie on the first but also carded two double bogeys and three bogeys in his 76, while Bjorn fared even worse with a 79 as strong winds swept across the course which is just yards from the Indian Ocean.
Bjorn, 42, is currently second in the European Ryder Cup points list after his victory in the Nedbank Challenge at the end of the last year, while the 50-year-old Jimenez is just outside the automatic qualifying places after retaining his Hong Kong Open title in December.
Clarke's last tournament win was the Open Championship at Royal St George's in 2011, the Northern Irishman failing to record a single-top 10 on the European Tour in the last two years.
However, the 45-year-old has lost almost three stone since October as he looks to get back to his best and climb from 297th in the world rankings.
"My objectives are getting back to playing some of the golf I know I can play," Clarke said. "I have had a frustrating last couple of years where I have not played that badly but made stupid mistakes.
"I took a look at myself in October and thought I was getting too fat, too heavy, too lethargic and decided to do something about it. I spend a lot of time in the gym doing heavy weights, no cardio, and changed my diet and hopefully I will reap the benefits.
"I plan to keep doing what I am doing if not necessarily losing any more weight, maybe get stronger and stronger. I hit a drive on the 10th today of 300 yards back into the wind and another driver from 285 yards to 12 feet. I couldn't have done that maybe five or six months ago."
Clarke revealed he has largely eliminated sugar and carbohydrates from his diet, but added: "I have not gone totally over to the dark side. I am more careful about what I do but I was still able to have a few pints with my mates over Christmas."
Montgomerie was inches away from winning a Volvo Backhoe Loader (excavator) worth 75,000 US dollars for a hole-in-one on the par-three 15th, although he admitted he would have swiftly asked the tournament sponsors for the cash instead and split it with caddie Alistair McLean.
The former Ryder Cup captain added: "I was playing well at the end of last year and I started to play a lot more golf. I had not been having much fun on 7,500-yard courses on the main tour but I am a member of three tours now (European Tour and two seniors tours) and it's given me more freedom to choose courses I can get round."