x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Darren Clarke happy to walk with Tiger Woods at Bridgestone

First-round pairing of British Open winner and his partner is a fair call, says Neil Cameron.

Darren Clarke, the most recent major winner, has been close to Tiger Woods for years.
Darren Clarke, the most recent major winner, has been close to Tiger Woods for years.

Darren Clarke and Tiger Woods always made an unlikely pairing, and it is one of the many reasons their group will attract the biggest crowds today at the WGS-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

They have been close for years and, in fact, the new British Open champion could claim to know golf's most recognised player as well as anyone.

"We have just always got on really well," Clarke said. He then added with a grin: "Similar build, similar colour, similar stature. I think that's why."

Not for the first time, some players have grumbled that Woods has been given special preference by tournament organisers. If he could have hand-picked any player to be in his group for the first round of this latest comeback after an 11-week lay-off, Clarke would more than likely have been at the top of his list.

They are friends and also the Northern Irishman has just been crowned the British Open champion, in one of sport's great stories of the year. It is fair to assume some television executive had a word in someone's ear.

However, the golf world needs Woods back because they are bored talking about scandal and injuries. It wants him to get back to the genius that took him to 14 major titles.

And they will bend over backwards to accommodate the player now ranked 28 in the world but still by far the No 1 draw.

Woods will probably not win the US$8.5 million (Dh32.3m) World Golf Championships event at Firestone Country Club, which doesn't have a cut, but any glimpse of good form will make the others sit up and take notice ahead of next week's US PGA.

"Tiger was arguably the best player the game has ever seen," Clarke said.

"I've won just one major, he's got buckets of them.

" It would be a little bit presumptuous of me to tell him what to do. I've told him what I think about what he's doing golf-swing wise and stuff.

"Sometimes he takes it in and sometimes he doesn't."

Steve Stricker, ranked fourth in the world, is one of the favourites at the Invitational and is playing the golf of his life, having won the John Deere Classis last month. And yet he knows where all eyes will be today.

"If Tiger starts shooting low and the long putts begin to drop, we will soon know about it no matter where we are on the course," said the American.

"It's good to see him back and I, for one, hope his health is perfect and he can get back to his best. Although it's been nice for him to give the rest of us a chance for a while."

ncameron@thenational.ae


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