Tiger Woods back on stage with a special thank you from his old mate Darren Clarke
Published 30/07/2011 | 08:21
Darren Clarke will be able to thank Tiger Woods in person for the help he gave him in winning The Open after the former world number one's announcement that he will be back in action in Ohio next week.
Woods has been out with knee and Achilles tendon injuries since May 12, but returns with a new caddie expected to be friend and business partner Bryon Bell at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Clarke has been a friend as well since before Woods turned professional - they played together in the 1996 Open - and the Ulsterman was the grateful recipient of text messages during his Open triumph two weeks ago.
"It's great he's coming back to play again," said Clarke at the Irish Open in Killarney yesterday.
"He's been a very good friend for a long time. He offered some helpful advice on Saturday (of Open week), but I'm not going to tell you what it was. That's between friends."
Clarke added that he will probably now text the American to convey his delight at his ending a lay-off many were starting to think could go on all year after he pulled out of the US Open and Open.
Woods' last playing appearance was the Players' Championship in Florida, where he limped through nine holes in a six over par 42 before quitting.
"I'm excited to get back out there," he said in announcing his comeback on his website.
He sustained a mild medial collateral ligament strain to his left knee and aggravated a strained left Achilles tendon while finishing fourth at The Masters in April, the last event he completed.
The announcement also said he had only just recently begun hitting balls again, so it remains to be seen how he performs on the course where he has won seven World Championships, but last year finished joint 78th out of 80 on 18 over par as his divorce was being finalised. Last week he fired Steve Williams, caddie for 13 of his 14 major titles, after the New Zealander apparently upset him by working for Adam Scott at the AT&T National without seeking permission.
It was reported on 'The Golf Channel' that childhood friend Bell, president of Tiger Woods Design, would return to caddying duties at Firestone, although there has been no confirmation of that yet.
His return will come as he suffers his biggest-ever one-week drop in the world rankings.
Woods will play at Firestone ranked 28th at best, a fall of seven places from this week.
Woods is without a major since the 2008 US Open and without a tournament win since November 2009, but was still world number one as recently as last October.
Graeme McDowell said: "I think we were all aware that if he didn't play by the PGA (on August 11-14) we might not see him again this year, so it's a good boost obviously.
"Firestone has some happy memories for him - not last year - and it's a big boost for the tournament and for any tournament he now plays in. They just have an extra dimension to them when he's in the field.
"He limped off the course last time. There's one thing hitting balls on the range, it's another putting your body under tournament circumstances because we hit it 15% harder in tournament play.
"You're putting your knee under more stress. We will see - I am sure he knows better than all of us the state of his injuries. It's just good for golf to have him back."