x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Darren Clarke: US golf is not in decline

An American golfer has not won a major since Phil Mickelson at The Masters last year — the longest period since 1934.

Darren Clarke believes talents like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler puts US golf in good stead for the future.
Darren Clarke believes talents like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler puts US golf in good stead for the future.

ATLANTA // Darren Clarke just had to laugh when one particular question was put to him in the build-up to this week's USPGA Championship in Atlanta.

"Do you think we might see another American win a major in our lifetime?" a reporter asked the British Open champion.

It was only Augusta in April last year that Phil Mickelson beat Lee Westwood down the stretch, but it feels so much longer.

Six successive majors with non-Americans — Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Clarke — coming out on top has not happened since The Masters began in 1934.

There are also, of course, four Europeans — Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Kaymer and McIlroy — at the top of the world rankings and Europe holds the Ryder Cup.

But Clarke, 43 this Sunday, is too old and too wise to be lulled into thinking US golf is in terminal decline.

And he does not rule out a speedy return to form by Tiger Woods, only 37th out of 76 on his return from a 12-week injury lay-off in Akron last week.

"I think the PGA Tour has given the non-American players a huge opportunity to come over and play," said the Northern Irishman.

"Consequently, they have become more comfortable over here and the whole game has opened up now.

"You look at the field this week. How many international players have we got?" The answer is 69 in the field of 156.

"The European Tour, of which I'm proud to be a member, has got some fantastic players and there are great players dotted all around the world.

Clarke said that America should be buoyed by the like of Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler emerging as good young US talent and they should start winning again, but for the moment, it is a wonderful time for the European Tour.

Clarke also said that Woods, with whom he played the first two rounds at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, was returning to some sort of form saying that his game was pretty good.

"I thought he hit an awful lot of really, really good golf shots and to come back after a long lay-off, you can practise as much as you want, but until you actually put yourself back into a competitive arena its totally different," he said.

"He got last week under his belt and I'm sure this week, if Tiger plays the golf he can, I have no doubt he can be in contention."

World No 1 Donald, however, does not expect Woods to be a factor come Sunday in the last major of the season adding that it will take time before Woods returns to competitive form.

"It's very difficult to come off a lay-off from injury," he told Press Association Sport. "When I injured my wrist [in 2008], getting back into competition was completely different to hitting balls on the range.

"It might take a little bit of time. From what I heard, he found a lot of positive in his game, but obviously it is not where he wanted to be.

"He wanted to win that tournament — that was his goal. It would surprise me if he went on and won in the next couple of weeks."