News & ToursJuly 20, 2011

In Clarke, Woods may have an unlikely role model

There are signs that Tiger Woods is becoming competitively stir crazy, a good example being the detailed text messages he reportedly sent Darren Clarke on Saturday night prepping his old friend on how to win a major.

According to Clarke's manager, Chubby Chandler, the messages were more than the standard "play well" encouragement. They entailed specifics and went on for screen after screen.

"Tiger's texts were very much appreciated and helped when it came to believing I could win," Clarke said in his Monday morning news conference at Royal St. George's, refusing to give details.

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Clarke and Woods became close more than a decade ago and bonded during battle. Their final in the 2000 WGC-Match Play Championship was best remembered for the way Darren literally blew smoke on Tiger with his Havana specials in a decisive 4 and 3 victory.

"He did to Tiger Woods what Tiger Woods has been doing to other people," said Butch Harmon, who at the time was coaching both players. "He kicked his butt and looked him right in the eye as he was doing it.

                 (*Related: [Tiger's stalled comeback](http://www.golfdigest.com/golf-tours-news/2011-02/photos-tiger-tease#slide=1))*

Afterward, Woods took Clarke aside and tried to get in his head the concept of fitness. Clarke laughed and talked about the dust collected on his exercise equipment at his home in Portrush.

Clarke listened, though. I remember almost not recognizing the Ulsterman in the lobby at Kapalua in 2004, pulling up his shirt to reveal washboard abs. Clarke was proud of his gut when it was ripped, just as he is now of its more ample proportions.

It was that year, 2004, when Woods barely escaped elimination in an opening round match of the Accenture to John Rollins. Striding onto the driving range, hot at himself, not making eye contact with anyone, he passed Clarke. Not many people would dare say a word to Woods in that situation, but Clarke couldn't help himself.

"Merry Christmas," he said, loud enough so Woods could hear him.

Without looking up, Woods said, "And Happy Hanukkah, too," forcing a smile.

That was both the nature of their relationship and many Guinness pints ago for Darren. Woods had to look at his TV screen and marvel at the golf being played by the 42-year-old Clarke, who told me at his Sunday night victory party, "Look at me. It's obvious I don't spend too much time in the gym."

You know how Clarke trained to win the British Open? He went out over the winter with three of his mates at Royal Portrush, slugged down three pints and went out on the links to play golf. Not play "golf swing." Afterward,there was no cardio or core work, just more pints.

At breakfast before the final round, he had what the Northern Irish refer to as "the full Ulster fry." At his news conference Monday, Clarke was definitely fried from a night of partying. Laughing at a question, he broke into a smoker's cough.

On the outside, Tiger looks like he could play in the NFL. All those power reps have created an almost super human exterior. Inside, he is hardly bionic. At 35, you have to wonder where he'll be physically in seven years, if he's had knee replacement by then. Woods' future is in question in part because he overbooked his training. His knee and Achilles issues are the result of high-impact exercise as much as snapping his left knee at impact with the Butch Harmon swing.

Ultimately, it gets back to competition, and what Woods misses most -- the thrill Clarke had putting the victory on lock down. Word is that Woods will be back, "sooner than later." Wouldn't it be something if he could get the Clarke pairing at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational or maybe the PGA Championship?

As Clark said in his closing comments, "The game is fickle. It hammers you, hammers you,  and then it gives to you something."

Over these past 18 months, Woods has been hammered and has realized how fickle the game -- and life -- really is. He gave back to Clarke. What Clarke regifted was the belief that winning more majors is maybe not that far away.

-- Tim Rosaforte

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