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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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William Hague to urge reform on visit to Burma

William Hague is visiting Burma, the first British foreign secretary to do so for more than 50 years.

He is expected to use meetings with the country’s leaders to press for the release of more political prisoners.
His visit is the latest in a series by top diplomats from around the world, amid steps towards reform by the new government in Burma.
Burma held its first elections in 20 years in 2010, replacing military rule with a nominally civilian government.
Since then the new administration has freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and begun a process of dialogue.
Last month she formally registered her National League for Democracy as a political party, after boycotting the 2010 polls because of electoral laws that prevented her taking part.

In December US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma, in what was seen as an endorsement of the reform process – although Western observers say much more is needed.
‘Political freedom’

Speaking ahead of his arrival in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, William Hague welcomed the “encouraging” steps taken by the government.

“I am visiting the country to encourage the Burmese government to continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process,” he said.

Mr Hague is the first British foreign secretary to visit Burma since 1955.

In Nay Pyi Taw he will hold talks with President Thein Sein, a former top general who stepped down to contest the polls as a civilian.

He will then travel to Rangoon, Burma’s commercial capital, to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, representatives of some of Burma’s ethnic minority groups and dissidents.

Ms Suu Kyi’s party plans to contest by-elections in April that could see her elected to parliament. Her party secured a landslide victory in polls in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

The new government has released some political prisoners in recent months but between 600 and 1,000 journalists, dissidents and monks who led anti-government protests in 2007 are thought to remain behind bars.

Mr Hague said he wanted to see more progress on reform.

“Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom in Burma,” he said.

“In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, humanitarian access to people in conflict areas, and credible steps towards national reconciliation.”

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