Darren Clarke has handed the Claret Jug back, but has set his sights on a swift re-union at Lytham St. Anne’s on Sunday night.

Clarke, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington are all in the field for the British Open which begins on Thursday.

A year after his stunning success at Sandwich, Clarke is keen to ignore his recent form and make a real push for a second career major.

His desire to retain the Open was only heightened when he had to give the famous trophy back on Monday.

“It’s not quite in as good a condition as I received it in,” laughed Clarke at Lytham.

“It’s been here, there and everywhere but they say they can fix it. I didn’t drop it. I shall say no more -- it was nothing to do with me. But it’s not that bad. It’s fine. And I didn’t really want to give it back obviously.”

Well-known for his love of a pint of Guinness, Clarke also revealed that he refused to put any alcohol into golf’s most iconic trophy.

“Not at any stage did I put any fluid in it at all. Nothing. It just is too special a trophy,” he said.

“I have so much respect for the Open Championship. I thought about it a few times, but I couldn’t get myself to do it.

“I was tempted on the Sunday evening and the Monday evening and the Tuesday evening and the Wednesday evening and for about two weeks afterwards.

“But I just thought, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ I don’t need to have a jug to drink out of!

“I think everybody that’s been fortunate to have their hands on the trophy have done different things with it.”

Well settled in for the week at Lytham, both Clarke and McIlroy have backed up comments from Tiger Woods about the punitive rough they will face at this year’s Open.

Clarke said, “There are a few patches out there where it’s just absolutely brutal. If you start spraying the ball around this week you might as well go home.

“It’s a big challenge. There’s a really huge premium on accuracy this week. There are a few places you could lose your ball, even with spotters and everything.

“And even if they do find the balls in some of those areas I don’t know if you’ll be able to take a full swing and move it.”

Despite poor form of late, Clarke is confident he can mount a successful defense of his title after a rough year.

“You’d think at the age of 43 and having played in Ryder Cups and won World Golf Championships, I’d be more understanding,” he said.

“I wanted to play like an Open champion and tried too hard to do it instead of just playing. I’d be down at Royal Portrush for nine or 10 hours a day in the pouring rain and wind thinking to myself that I’ve got to play better. It hasn’t quite worked.

“You don’t get anywhere without practice, though, and at some stage it will pay off. I don’t know when, but it will.”

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