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Tigers Comeback and Clarke

Darren Clarke Believes Tiger Will Win Again

Posted Oct 12, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

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Tiger Woods reacted with unusually good humour to a hotdog-flinging spectator during the final round of the Frys.Com Tournament in California on Sunday.  Still, his overall performance suggested that the erstwhile great-one has some way to go while attempting to scratch his way back to prominence.  One suspects he is going to need lots of support to do so and among those happy to lend an encouraging hand is Darren Clarke, his conquerer in the Accenture Matchplay at La Costa in February 2000.

Through all of Woods’ self-inflicted travails, they have remained firm friends.  Indeed the former world number one was among the first to send a congratulatory text to Clarke when he eventually made the breakthrough of capturing the Open Championship at Royal St George’s last July.

When I met up with Clarke over the weekend at Portmarnock GC, his warmth towards Woods was unchanged.  “A few weeks following the Open, I met up with Tiger at Firestone,” said Clarke.  “And after a seven-week break since the PGA, he’s obviously excited to be back once more in tournament action.  Will he win again?  In my view he’s too good not to.  The most talented and exciting player to have played the game is simply not going to disappear from prize-presentation platforms.  Whether he’ll get back to his one-time dominance is another question, but I have no doubt he will be back winning tournaments.  Most definitely.  Could these include majors?  For a man of that amount of talent, I wouldn’t rule out anything.”

Hotdog incident apart, Woods did well in his latest comeback when a potentially dispiriting first-round 73 was followed by three successive 68s.  Still, he finished in a share of 30th place, 10 strokes behind the winner, Bryce Molder.  Which prompts the thought as to whether Woods was even aware of Molder as ACC Player of the Year from Georgia Tech in 2001, when he himself was completing the Tiger Slam by capturing the US Masters.

Meanwhile, with Sean Foley now guiding Woods’s fortunes from a coaching standpoint, it is interesting to recall that Butch Harmon was looking after both Woods and Clarke at the time of the Irishman’s La Costa victory.  And given that he happens to be a Las Vegas resident, it wasn’t surprising to find Harmon relieving certain London bookmakers of a reported $10,000 in various bets by the Saturday of the matchplay event.

Incidentally, Clarke did not have a club contract at the time, which meant that his caddie, Billy Foster, carried a variety of implements to victory. There were MacGregor VIP Tour irons, a Titleist 975D driver with a 9.5-degree loft and Callaway fairway woods.  And when it was all over, into the category of words a scribe would gladly have retracted went a report in the Los Angeles Times on the Sunday of the final which started thus: “Now that he can almost smell the ink on the $1 million winner’s cheque, it’s time to ask this question: is there anyone in the world better at matchplay than Tiger Woods?  If there is, he wasn’t there Saturday at La Costa.”

Still, Woods had the last word. On the Sunday evening, after all the interviews had been completed, Clarke went to the locker room. There on the door of his locker was a pinned note. It read: “Congrats Big D. Well done. Be proud. Best wishes, T. PS You’re still a fat f--k.”

In the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn, a lot of people have passed water under the bridge since then.  Clarke lost his wife, through cancer, and Woods lost his game.  Yet they clearly remain friends, which speaks volumes for the impact they made on each other in that memorable encounter more than 11 years ago.

- Dermot Gilleece

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