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Darren Clarke hails ‘golden era’ for European golf

Open champion Darren Clarke believes European golf is experiencing another “golden era”.

The 43-year-old won his first major last summer while fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy triumped at the US Open and England’s Luke Donald finished on top of the money lists.

“Golf over here is very strong at the moment,” Clarke said.

“It’s like the sort of dominance we had in the late 80s and early 90s, we’re back to that golden era.”

Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal were regulars in the world’s top 10 during that period and, fast forward to 2011, four Europeans occupied the top four spots in the final week of the year.

Donald and McIlroy are joined by England’s Lee Westwood and Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who won the 2010 PGA Championship, in the top four.

“We’re incredibly fortunate,” added Clarke, who ended a 20-year wait to land his first major, at Royal St George’s, last July.
“You look at Rory and the way he’s been playing, and what he did at the US Open.

“And you’ve got Luke, who finished number one in the money list in the United States and Europe. I don’t think that will be done again. What Luke achieved was monumental.”

The Northern Ireland player, who has played in four Ryder Cup-winning teams, and was a victorious vice-captain in 2010, said it was only a matter of time before world number two Westwood would join the elite.

“My good mate is knocking on the door – he’ll win a major, or majors, sooner rather than later,” he added.Another friend Clarke believes will again be challenging for the big prizes is Tiger Woods.

The former world number one and 14-time major winner, who fell as low as 58 in the rankings in November, broke his two-year winless streak by taking the Chevron World Challenge in December. However, Woods is still without a PGA Tour win since November 2009.

“I spoke to him after he won the tournament – he was obviously delighted,” said Clarke, who became an OBE in the New Year Honours list.”The game needs Tiger. You remember the excitement he brought to the game when he first came on the scene.”I’m looking forward to him taking on the likes of Rory, Lee and Luke in 2012. As talented as Tiger is, he won’t be far away from his best.”

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Israel, Palestinians hold ‘positive’ talks

AMMAN: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a “positive” first face-to-face meeting in more than 15 months on Tuesday, saying they remain committed to a two-state solution but that full-blown talks are still some way off.

“The talks and atmosphere were positive,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters after the talks in Amman between Israel’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat and Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh.

Washington too welcomed what it described as a “positive development” after months of deadlock in peace talks over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal in 2010 to renew a freeze on most settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Judeh, who hosted the meeting in the Jordanian capital, voiced cautious optimism. “The two sides expressed their commitment to a two-state solution. We do not want to raise the level of expectations, but at the same time we do not want to minimise the importance of this meeting,” he said.

“The Palestinians submitted a paper on borders and security. The Israeli side received it, promising to study it and respond,” he said.

The minister said Jordan, which has a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, will host further talks between the two sides.

“Any announcement about the meetings will be made by Jordan. You might hear about the meetings and you might not,” he said, expecting “progress and things to be positive by the end of this month.”
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Tuesday the outcome of the meeting would soon be clear.

“We will know today or in the coming two days,” he said, indicating that they were looking to find “the right foundation” to resume talks with Israel.
“This is a good thing and we hope Jordanian efforts work,” he was quoted as saying by Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency.
Earlier this week, Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor said the fact that a meeting was taking place was “a positive development” but that it did not in itself constitute a return to direct talks.Erakat made the same point in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio.
“This meeting will be devoted to discussing the possibility of making a breakthrough that could lead to the resumption of negotiations. Therefore, it will not mark the resumption of negotiations,” he said on Monday.

Direct talks ground to a halt in September 2010, when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank settlement construction expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it.

“We will see what the quartet’s position will be in this meeting and if it is willing to seriously address the obstacles to the peace process and negotiations put by Israel,” PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine.

Abbas met with US envoy David Hale in Ramallah late on Monday and told him there would be no resumption of talks unless Israel froze settlement construction and accepted the 1967 borders as the basis for peace talks, a Palestinian official told AFP.

The Quartet, which comprises the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, has been trying to draw the two sides back to the negotiating table, asking them for comprehensive proposals on territory and security.

White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged the difficulties President Barack Obama faced in getting a resumption of talks.

“He is doing everything he can to bring them together at the table,” Carney said.

“And this is obviously a challenging issue — it has been so for a long time. But the president’s very focused on doing what he can to make it happen.”

Abed Rabbo said Washington wanted the talks to restart “without any preconditions or promises on settlement expansion.
“This does not fulfil the conditions for a resumption of negotiations nor does it enable any negotiations to succeed,” he said.
The meeting sparked an angry reaction from the Hamas movement which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting Abbas’s forces in 2007.
“Going to such a meeting is only betting on failure,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP on Monday.
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also criticised the meeting, calling it a “fatal error” which would force the Palestinians back into another pointless waiting game. (AFP)

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