By Tony Jimenez
HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - Darren Clarke may be unrecognizable from the figure that won the 2011 British Open but one thing will never change for the Northern Irishman - the competitive juices always flow for him at golf's oldest major.
The 45-year-old has endured a miserable season, missing a combined 10 cuts on the European and U.S. PGA tours, and is still waiting for his first top-20 finish of the year.
Clarke, however, always loves to check his game on the testing seaside layouts of the Open and he again rose to the challenge on Saturday with a sparkling six-birdie, one bogey 67 catapulting him through the field.
"This is the biggest and best tournament in the world," he told reporters after ending the third round with a five-under tally of 211.
"I enjoy playing links golf and the Open championship is one I always look forward to playing from the start of the year."
Clarke decided to dive head first into a new fitness regime in the close season and, although his form does not seem to have benefited, his body has.
"I'm not as fat as I was," he said. "If you've got 50 or 60 pounds sitting in front of your gut you're going to swing a lot slower through the ball than what you would do otherwise and I kept leaving the club behind me.
"I've done a few things this week. The club's got back in front of me again so it's been better.
"It's not quite Jane Fonda's workout but I'll probably go to the gym this afternoon and lift some weights," added Clarke.
The former European Ryder Cup player celebrated his 2011 Open win at Sandwich in traditional Irish fashion and was famously groggy-eyed the following morning.
Clarke said he was a bit more cautious with his drinking habits these days.
"I'll probably have a couple of glasses of wine but that's about it," he explained. "I'm not a teetotal angel or anything, far from that."
Open organizers, the Royal & Ancient (R&A), opted to bring in an unprecedented "shotgun" start on the first and 10th tees on Saturday in a bid to avoid the heavy rain and thunderstorms that were forecast.
The bad weather failed to materialize and some pundits criticized the R&A's move.
"It's easy to say now that it was the wrong decision looking at the weather that we've had," said Clarke. "But if they have a couple of bolts of lightning in the next couple of hours it's going to mess everybody's day up isn't it?
"They've had to do what they had to do to try and get it done today and they're trying to do what's best for the tournament. So there can be no blame apportioned at all to the R&A for that."
(Editing by Tony Goodson)