Come back Tiger Woods, all is forgiven. That was the message last night from top Ulster golfer Darren Clarke, a pal of the disgraced world number one and winner of 14 Majors.
Tiger has gone to ground since revelations about his extra marital relationships surfaced just before Christmas.
But Clarke admitted that the sport desperately needs Tiger back on the tee.
“Tiger is a very well liked guy among is peers, everyone gets on well with him and we all want to see him back on Tour again,” said Clarke.
“I don’t think anyone in the golfing world has any idea when Tiger will come back.
“We just hope he’s back sooner rather then later. Everybody wants him back.
“He’s the best player in the world and you always want to compare yourself against the best player in the world.
“And that’s why all the players want to see him back as soon as possible,” he said.
Clarke himself has had a glittering career to date and was the hero of Europe’s 2006 Ryder Cup success at the K Club near Dublin.
And he would love to be involved when Colin Montgomerie’s Europeans take on America at Celtic Manor in Wales later this year.
Clarke is currently finding a decent bit of form with a recent second place at the Joburg Open and eighth at the Delhi Masters.
“I’ve been playing quite well of late. I had been getting a little bit frustrated with my putting but overall my game of late has been pretty good.
“I was a bit disappointed with how I finished off in Delhi last week but overall my game is good at the moment.
“I have another week or so off and then I fly out on Saturday week to start preparing for the Malaysian Open,” he explained.
“I just want to keep on playing because I’m enjoying it.
“I need to finish off the rounds better than I have been doing, and if I can do that I have a chance of making the Ryder Cup team again.
“It’s very early in the year to say just how the two teams are going to shape up but nearly every time the Ryder Cup is contested the teams are of such high quality that there’s not a great deal between them.
“There’s no real strong favourites like there used to be.”
And Clarke has tipped Ulster’s rising 20-year-old star Rory McIlroy — currently world number eight — to win a Major sooner rather than later.
“Rory is going to be up there contesting the Majors this year but a lot will depend on when Tiger comes back.
“It’s definitely a good time for European golf at the moment.
“Rory will be playing both Tours and it shouldn’t make
that much difference to him as he played quite a bit in the States last year. Rory is so good he will play well anywhere.
“Anyone that travels extensively and plays on different grasses where everything is different and it’s a different challenge, it will only do them good,” he explained.
Clarke was at Royal Portrush yesterday to launch his Golf Academy, which he hopes will produce the next Rory McIlroy.
“The Academy provides an opportunity for kids to come along and learn the game and also enjoy themselves,” he said.
“It’s an exciting initiative for me and a chance to get kids involved in golf.
“We have Graeme McDowell, Gareth Maybin, obviously Rory McIlroy all doing well so Northern Ireland has a lot of players succeeding on tour.
“And the more chances we can give kids to do the same as these players, the better.
“It’s about getting kids to enjoy the game, getting them to ask questions.
“It’s like in all the things I have been doing with kids through my Foundation — you tend to find they are very shy to ask questions. If you can get one to ask a question then they all start asking questions.
“For such a small country, Northern Ireland has had a lot of success in golf. A lot of people play the game at club level as well.
“Even if we can get kids playing the game at club level that’s important because it’s promoting the game.”
The Academy, in partnership with The Co-operative Food, will be staged throughout Ireland over the school summer holidays, offering top quality coaching for boys and girls aged 7-16 years.
For more information or to book a place contact Activate Sport on 0800 345 7480 or visit www.darrenclarkegolfacademy.com . Dates: August 16-18: Greenmount Campus, Co Antrim; August 18-20: Blackwood Golf Club, Co Down; August 18-20: Carton House, Co Kildare; August 23-25: Carton House, Co Kildare; August 24-26: Blackwood Golf Club, Co Down; August 25-27: Greenmount Campus, Co Antrim.