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Tiger Woods can still be a Master, says Darren Clarke

By Phil Casey

It was a good job that Tiger Woods did not wait another 24 hours before playing a practice round at Augusta National ahead of next week's Masters.

Reports yesterday that his private plane had been spotted at the local airport would have been treated as an April Fool's joke, rather than the biggest indication to date that the former world number one will end his self-imposed exile from the game in the Masters.

Woods' agent eventually confirmed that his client had played 18 holes with two club members.

Woods has not officially stated whether he will compete at Augusta having not played since February 5, when he withdrew during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Less than a week later he announced that he was taking an indefinite break from golf, saying that his game was not up to his standards.

However, given that he hardly needs to familiarise himself with a venue where he has won four of his 14 Major titles, it is looking increasingly likely that the 39-year-old will not miss the year's first Major for the second year in succession.

Last year Woods announced, coincidentally on April 1, that he would miss the Masters for the first time in his career after undergoing back surgery. He also did not contest the US Open at Pinehurst, finished 69th in the Open at Hoylake and missed the cut in the US PGA Championship.

So far this season Woods has withdrawn from one tournament and recorded the worst score of his career - 82 - in the other.

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke (below) says: "It's just not him but, then again, he's not had the club coming from the position it is at the moment and it's just a struggle.

"But I don't think we should be too hasty to write him off because he's gone through so many swing changes in the past and managed to prove people wrong. He's one of the best players that's ever played the game and we tend to forget that.

"Due to Rory (McIlroy) coming along and Jordan Spieth playing so well, people are saying, 'Tiger's done, he's finished' but he's a special man.

"He's four years younger than I was when I won a Major. You can't be as good as he was then lose it all. The changes he's making are not because he wanted to make them; they're because of his injury. It's a difficult scenario when something like that is forced upon you."

In his last nine appearances in the Masters, Woods has only finished outside the top six once. But given everything that has happened in the last 18 months, just finishing the tournament would be viewed as a success.

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