Thursday 29 June 2017

Delight for Clarke after Woods draw

Bernie McGuire, in Akron

Darren Clarke is relishing the opportunity to play alongside good friend Tiger Woods during the opening round of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational tomorrow.

Organisers have drawn the reigning British Open champion with 14-time Major winner Woods, who is returning to competition for a first time in three months, for the first day of the $8.5m event being played on the Firestone course in Akron, Ohio.

Clarke has brought the Claret Jug with him for his first event in the States since finishing in a share of 48th place in last year's US PGA.

"It's a good pairing. Any time you get to play alongside Tiger is always good," said Clarke. "Tiger and I have had a few battles on the course. It's nice to see him back playing again.

"He and I have a special relationship and we get on well together. I'm sure there will be a lot of people out watching us."

Since arriving in steamy Akron, Clarke had not the opportunity to catch up with Woods, who has not played competitively since hobbling off after nine holes of March's Players Championship.

On Monday, he played a practice round at Atlanta Country Club -- venue for next week's US PGA Championship.

"I'm ready to go," Woods declared yesterday. "Doctors gave me the clearance to go, so here I am. I started back practising a couple of weeks ago.

"I still haven't been in a competitive environment yet, so that's a totally different atmosphere. But the shots felt crisp, very clean. I was very pleased."

And during his 12-week absence, Woods has been impressed by what's happened in golf -- headed by the Irish pair of Clarke and Rory McIlroy capturing back-to-back Majors.

"It was great to see Darren play well. He's gone through a lot in his life. To win an Open Championship, the one he covets the most, that's special to him, and the way he did it was very impressive," said Woods.

"Also, the game is probably switching a little bit. You had a ton of years where Phil (Mickelson), myself, Vijay (Singh), Ernie (Els), Goose (Retief Goosen), Jim (Furyk), we were all winning a bunch of tournaments. Now there's a lot of new guys. The game is changing, and it's fun to see."

Irish Independent

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