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Golf: Tiger will be ready: Clarke

Tiger Woods's return to the US PGA Tour this week after a three-month injury absence has been warmly applauded by his peers, who say the game has sorely missed its greatest practitioner.

While the question of his form at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio remains very much up in the air, many of his rivals believe that Woods will challenge for a US PGA Tour title he has already won seven times before.

"His expectation is to win," British world number one Luke Donald said at the Firestone Country Club while preparing for his opening round.

"I know coming off injuries and being away from competition is tough. Tiger has done it a few times ... so he's getting used to it a little bit. He always sets his standards very high and that's the way he should be."

British Open champion Darren Clarke, who will play alongside Woods for the first two rounds in Akron, said he would not be at all surprised to see the former world number one triumph this week.

"Tiger Woods could be a hard man to beat because of his record around this golf course," Clarke said.

"He loves it so much and has played so well here before. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a really, really good week. I don't think he would come back to play unless he was ready ... both physically and mentally, and be ready for the challenge again."

Woods will, however, have to shake off plenty of rust after only recently getting back to hitting balls in practice.

The 14-time major winner has not played tournament golf since he pulled out of the Players' Championship in May after completing just nine holes, having hurt his left knee ligaments and Achilles tendon during the US Masters at Augusta in April.

US Open champion Rory McIlroy felt a good result for Woods this week would be to complete the full 72 holes without any discomfort. "Just to get through 72 holes and maybe finish in the top 20 would be a really good effort (for him)," said the 22-year-old Irishman.

"Given the length of layoff and considering that he's only been able to hit full shots for the last two weeks, it would be an unbelievable effort if he was to come back and compete."

US PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany echoed the views of many players in hoping that Woods would again flourish on the tight, tree-lined Firestone layout.

"We need him, we really need him," Kaymer said. "He's the best player who ever played that game.

"Obviously, he's struggling a little bit at the moment but I just hope that he can go back to basics and show us how great of a golf player he is.

"I think the Tour needs that, as well, to get golf going in the world. It would be great if he comes back and ... proves that he's the best player who ever played that game."