By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tim Clark won't be at 100 percent when he defends his PLAYERS title this week. But he will be on the course, which is not something he would have expected a few weeks ago.
Clark has been battling tendinitis in his right elbow, which has sidelined him for most of the 2011 season. In fact, he has made just one start in four months -- at the Masters last month -- but feels good enough to give it a go this week at TPC Sawgrass.
"At this point with the injuries I've had this year, I'm just really excited to be here," Clark said Wednesday. "I feel like I'm going to be able to play, which two weeks ago I wasn't sure if that would be the case."
Clark played in the first two tournaments of the year in Hawaii, including the 36-hole final day at the Sony Open in Hawaii when he finished tied for second. But the following Tuesday, he experienced a "killing" pain in his right arm after he woke up. He thinks now the injury had been building for some time, with the 36-hole finish at Waialae pushing it over the edge.
He's been receiving treatment, including soft tissue work and accupuncture, and also resting it as much as possible. Since his missed cut at Augusta National, he did not pick up a club until a few days ago.
"For a long time it just seemed like it was never going to end," Clark said of his injury. "So the improvement I've felt over the last few weeks has given me some encouragement and I'm feeling a bit more upbeat about it.
"I'm still probably 70, 80 percent. There's still a little bit of a niggle in the elbow. I do feel like I'm going to be able to play, though, and get through it."
The silver lining in all this, Clark said, was the fact that he's been able to spend more time at home. He and wife Candace had a child five weeks ago.
"I've been able to spend some time at home with the newborn and my wife, so that's certainly been nice," he said. "But yeah, it's really frustrating not to be able to come out to tournaments and play."
The South African flag has flown over the Circle of Champions at TPC Sawgrass for the past 358 days -- commemorating Tim Clark's come-from-behind victory at THE PLAYERS.
But the flag was replaced Sunday morning by the red-and-yellow striped Spanish flag in Clark’s gesture of respect for the late Seve Ballesteros. The World Golf Hall of Famer died Saturday after a three-year battle with brain cancer.
The Spanish flag will fly there until next Sunday when it will be replaced by the South African flag until a new PLAYERS champion is crowned. In addition, the PGA TOUR and PLAYERS flags will remain at half-mast until next Sunday.
Down in St. Augustine, the Spanish flag in front of the World Golf Hall of Fame has been lowered to half-mast. A large framed photo of Ballesteros has been placed in the box office and there is a black ribbon on his locker door. There will be a special tribute to the Spaniard during Monday night’s induction ceremony, as well.
There's been one silver lining to an otherwise cloudy season for Tim Clark.
That was the birth of his first child, a son named Jack, on April 1. Three days later, the South African found himself at Augusta National where he competed for the first time since January when he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Clark, who is battling a severe case of tendinitis in his right elbow, wasn't even sure he would be able to play in the Masters until he warmed up on Thursday. He shot two more-than-respectable rounds of 73 to miss the cut and then returned home to his family in Scottsdale with more uncertainty in his life.
Clark is scheduled to defend his first title in three weeks at the PGA TOUR's signature event, THE PLAYERS Championship. But similar to the situation he faced at Augusta National, Clark doesn't know if he'll be able compete.
"It's just been a slow process, and I'm hoping that I'm able to tee it up the at THE PLAYERS Championship," Clark said during a teleconference on Tuesday. "Right now, I'm still pretty unsure as to how it's going to be by then. But obviously I will be going out there regardless, to play or not, I'll be there in Sawgrass for the week. … I just hope I'll be able to play."
Clark is also dealing with neck pain that likely is related to the tendinitis in his elbow. He worked with his trainers on both problems, and Clark wondered if playing through the pain at the Masters might break the "bad cycle" he was in.
"After Thursday, I really didn't think I was going to be able to play Friday, but got out there and you know, an hour and a half before the round, we got the arm moving and felt like I was kind of okay to play," Clark said. "But that was more of a case of me being stubborn and not really wanting to withdraw, is what I think happened there.
"Certainly I was encouraged by the fact that I could finish two rounds, even though I was still in quite a bit of pain. And certainly encouraged that I didn't shoot a couple of 80s and I was able to play quite well."
Clark expects to have a similar mindset at THE PLAYERS. He shot 67-67 on the weekend at TPC Sawgrass a year ago and didn't make a bogey over his final 26 holes to surge past Lee Westwood and Robert Allenby to win for the first time on TOUR.
"Obviously it was a huge step for my career,: Clark said. "I guess really more of a validation for the hard work I've put in and the years spent out there. The fact that it came at THE PLAYERS Championship and on such a great golf course is obviously very satisfying.” – Helen Ross
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM Site Producer
Sounds like the most incongruous of golf pairings, but it wasn’t far from coming to fruition Sunday at Augusta – the Green Jacket and the long putter.
Adam Scott fell a little short of capturing his first major at Augusta National, but if he had it would have also
Tim Clark used one to win THE PLAYERS Championship last year and finished second with one in the 2006 Masters. Nick O’Hern and Scott McCarron also use long putters. Belly putters are even more prevalent, as we saw last month with Martin Laird and Spencer Levin using them while battling for the Arnold Palmer Invitational title.
When Jack Nicklaus won his signature sixth Green Jacket with an oversized-head Response ZT putter, the public bought thousands in the days afterward. Might the same thing have happened if Scott had won with his 49-inch Scotty Cameron Studio Select Kombi? Who knows.
But don’t expect to see Scott with anything else anytime soon. He put one in the bag earlier this year at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship and it has more than earned its place.
“After I saw some putts going in, it wasn't really hard to change,” Scott said. “The rhythm with the long putter is very nice, and that's something I was fighting in my putting with the short putter. So I started practicing with it, and the more I practiced with it, the better it felt and the more putts I made and eventually it was a pretty easy decision that I should give it a run.”
Scott tied for third at the Masters and had 111 putts over four days, which tied him for third in the field behind Luke Donald and the winner, Charl Schwartzel.
MORE BELLY TALK: World No. 2 Lee Westwood couldn’t hide his disgust with his work on the greens at Augusta and went to a belly putter for the final round. The 2010 runner-up finished tied for 11th, shooting 74-70 for the weekend after a Friday 67 moved him into contention.
“To come so close last year and get myself in good shape this year and then, on the greens, it just makes me feel like pulling my hair out,” Westwood said. “I felt a little more comfortable (Sunday) with the belly putter. At least I made one 15-footer.”
Westwood added that he “didn’t see any future in the short (putter) for a while.”
ANOTHER TIGER PUTTER?: OK, maybe not yet. But this photo from his trip to China this week is amusing. Look closely and you’ll see Woods practicing a long-putter stroke with a standard-length putter.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
AUGUSTA, GA. -- The good news? Tim Clark was able to finish Thursday's first round of the Masters, shooting a more-than-respectable 73.
The bad news? The pain from the tendinitis in his right elbow is so intense, Clark isn't sure he'll be able to tee it up on Friday at Augusta National -- and his title defense at THE PLAYERS Championship next month may be in jeopardy, too.
"I ended up, could have had a good score, really," Clark said. "I four-putted from under the hole on 10. I feel like I could have shot under par, but I'm not sure if I can play tomorrow.
"It's pretty bad. I'll go and get some treatment done in the morning, but it pretty much hurt all day and just got worse all day."
Clark, who is taking Celebrex to quell the inflammation, labeled his situation day-to-day. Encouraged by his performance in the first round, he plans to wait until Friday morning, when he tees off at 12:09 p.m. ET, to make a decision.
"The way I still managed to play, I felt like I might have had a chance," Clark said. "I've still got a chance here. But if it gets to a point where I can't swing, I just can't swing."
Clark hasn't played since he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He warmed up as he normally would on Thursday, though, and got the round off to a rousing start when he hit a driver and a 5-iron to 4 feet for birdie.
"I was like, well, I should just stop now," Clark said, chuckling.
Clark ended the round with four birdies, three bogeys and the double bogey from 10 feet at No. 10. He said the pain was worst during his practice swings -- "once I'm in the shots, the actual tournament shots, you're not really thinking about it," Clark said.
But the South African, who says he has no strength in his shoulders and back due to inactivity, didn't want to pass up the chance to play at Augusta National. The 35-year-old finished second in the Masters in 2006 and has three other ties for 13th here in nine starts.
“I could have come out here and not broken 80 for sure, so I just think I'm kind of stubborn and just sort of fought through it," Clark said. "Again, just to be here at Augusta, it's just a dream to come and play this tournament. So when you're given the opportunity, it's tough to walk away from it. Really that was the underlying factor."
THE PLAYERS, which is five weeks away, has a similar pull. The PGA TOUR's signature event marked Clark's first win and would be his first title defense.
"So really I've got to focus in on getting better for that," he said. "I'm just not sure. I'm not sure."
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Official World Golf Ranking is top-heavy with European players, but Rory Sabbatini thinks the South Africans will make some noise this week at Augusta National.
In fact, they already have, with Retief Goosen starting his round with an eagle on the par-4 first hole. Goosen is now 4 under through five holes and tied for the early lead with England’s Ross Fisher.
There are seven South Africans in the field this week -- Goosen, Sabbatini, Tim Clark, Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Immelman, the 2008 Masters champ, is the last South African to win at Augusta National.
Fifty years ago, Gary Player won the first of his three Green Jackets. He and Immelman remain the country's only two Masters winners, although Els, Clark and Goosen each have produced second-place finishes since 2004.
Asked about his country's chances, Sabbatini replied: "Obviously I think it's strong as always. You got Ernie, Retief, Louis, Charl, obviously Tim's having trouble with his wrist, so he's a little unsure, but I think it's looking really good this year."
Oosthuizen ran away with the British Open last year at St. Andrews. Schwartzel won on the European Tour earlier this year and Sabbatini won The Honda Classic a month ago.
Those three seem to be the most in-form of the South Africans, but don’t forget about Els. In 17 previous Masters starts, Els has six top-10 finishes and has twice finished second. The last time was 2004; since then, however, he has missed three cuts and not been in contention the other two times. This year, he has struggled with his putting.
"I would say you have to favor especially the longer hitters, so I think that me, Ernie, and Charl are the three longer South Africans," Sabbatini said. "I definitely think Charl with his mental aspect of the game is phenomenal and I see Louis just has a good all-around game.
"And we'll all know Ernie's record here, so it would be nice to see him come through and get himself a Green Jacket."
Oosthuizen's win last year at St. Andrews gave a nice jolt to South African golf. Sabbatini would love to see the major momentum continue for his country.
"I definitely think it was fantastic for South African golf," he said. "... There's waves that have come through and Charl and Louis seem to be that next wave."
FOLLOW THE SOUTH AFRICANS
|TIM CLARK||Click for Masters scorecard|
|ERNIE ELS||Click for Masters scorecard|
|RETIEF GOOSEN||Click for Masters scorecard|
|TREVOR IMMELMAN||Click for Masters scorecard|
|LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN||Click for Masters scorecard|
|RORY SABBATINI||Click for Masters scorecard|
|CHARL SCHWARTZEL||Click for Masters scorecard|
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM producer
The allure of the belly putter was on full display at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, as Martin Laird and Spencer Levin played in the final group all weekend with the longer flatsticks.
Are the unconventional putters a full-fledged trend on TOUR? Maybe not yet, but it’s worth noting that two of the top 30 in the world ranking now play with them – No. 28 Adam Scott (the full split-grip long putter) and Laird, who cracked the top 30 at No. 21 after winning at Bay Hill with a belly putter.
For Levin, the new putter has a complete game-changer. He switched after he secured his 2011 card late last year, and now he has three top-10s in his last six starts.
“When you're playing, you don't really think about it but looking back, I think I've obviously made more putts with it than I was before,” said Levin, who finished T2 in putts per round at Bay Hill.
“Since I got that belly putter, I've definitely noticed I've been making some more mid-range putts. Before with a normal putter, I was always good -- I was always a good short putter but I wasn't a very good 12- to 20-foot putter. (Now) I feel like I'm making a couple more a round, which is I think probably why I'm scoring better for sure.”
Reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen is getting into the act too; check out the Ping belly putter he bought at Augusta National here .
● Speaking of the Masters, world No. 2 Lee Westwood talked Wednesday at the Shell Houston Open about possible changes in his bag for the season’s first major.
“I generally keep the same stuff in, decide last minute whether it's 2-iron or 5 (wood). Augusta is generally 5 because you need to fly the ball in high,” Westwood said. “I've been doing a little bit of work with different bounces on sand irons. It's nice to take a bit of the bounce off the lob wedge at Augusta with the lies you get there and the firmness of the sand in the traps. It's nice to get under the ball a little bit.”
● Tiger Woods went back to his standard Nike VR blades at the Arnold Palmer, taking out the newer-version Nike VR Pro blades he put in the bag at the Chevron World Challenge last year. The VR blades will go to the Masters, too.
As for his continuing putter saga, Woods made an adjustment to the heel-shafted Nike Method that lately has replaced the Scotty Cameron that had been his constant through the years.
“We softened the grooves up to make sure it's not as quick, as I said, and I wanted something more suited for faster greens,” Woods said. “So we softened up the grooves, and it's coming off very similar to my Cameron and releasing obviously how I like it.”
Something more suited for faster greens … hmm. Sounds like a Masters putter.
● Laird won last week with a TaylorMade white driver, but not the more-ballyhooed R11. He used the Burner SuperFast 2.0 while ranking fifth in distance for the week.
“I put that new driver in at Doral three weeks ago, and I’m not someone that changes equipment much,” Laird
said. “I had had my driver before for three years and Taylor Made had been pushing me to try this new one, and I’m glad they did because this thing is unbelievable.”
● K.J. Choi turned heads with the three hybrids he used to finish tied for sixth at Bay Hill (read more here ), but another money club was the Odyssey putter he returned to. Choi’s trademark with putters is the SuperStroke extra-wide grip, said to keep the wrists from breaking down. He used one to win the AT&T National in 2007 and has had it ever since.
● Retief Goosen is going back to the Yes! model putter he used to win two U.S. Opens, our Melanie Hauser writes here .
● PLAYERS champion Tim Clark and others have played with Srixon’s yellow ball, which the company says offers improved visibility , not to mention a distinctive look.
On Twitter, a fan asked Titleist if they would make an orange ProV1 to match Rickie Fowler’s standard Sunday Oklahoma State-inspired outfits. The response: “Highly unlikely!”
● Jack Wulkotte, inducted over the weekend into the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Sports Hall of Fame, owns a pretty significant place in golf history. He was Jack Nicklaus’ personal clubmaker while with MacGregor. That ZT Response putter that Nicklaus won with at the 1986 Masters (and that you’ll hear plenty about over the next week)? Wulkotte put the grip on it. Read his story .
DORAL, Fla. – Tim Clark and Ben Crane withdrew from the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship on Thursday prior to the start of competition.
Clark has been battling tendinitis in his right elbow and has not played since he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii seven weeks ago. Crane pulled a muscle in his ribcage during his third round loss at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago.
Neither Clark, who is the reigning PLAYERS champion, nor Crane will be replaced in the field, which now consists of 67 players. The charities of their choice will receive last-place money.
In addition, Mike Weir has withdrawn after nine holes at the Puerto Rico Open presented by seepuertorico.com after injuring his wrist during the round. He shot 41 on the front side.
Boo Weekley also made an early exit after 12 holes in Puerto Rico, citing a hand injury. Weekley started on the front and didn’t made a par – posting six bogeys and three birdies. He made two pars and a double bogey on the back before withdrawing.
MARANA, Ariz. – Tim Clark has withdrawn from the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship due to an injury.
The South African, who won THE PLAYERS Championship last year, has been replaced by J.B. Holmes.
Holmes will now play Camilo Villegas in Match 4 at 9:55 a.m. ET on Wednesday. The match is in the Sam Snead bracket.
Holmes has only played in one Accenture Match Play Championship, nearly pulling off an upset of Tiger Woods in 2008 before losing 1 down.
Clark has not played since he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He developed severe blisters on his foot there, then was sidelined by an elbow injury and withdrew from the Bob Hope Classic, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Northern Trust Open.
The next alternate is Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, followed by Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and Lucas Glover of the United States. – Helen Ross
It hasn’t been the healthiest of starts for reigning PLAYERS champion Tim Clark this season.
Clark had to withdraw from the Bob Hope Classic due to blisters on his left foot that developed during the 36-hole finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii in which he shot 66-64 in the final two rounds to finish tied for second.
Clark was scheduled to play in last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am but had to withdraw after suffering an elbow injury.
That same injury may have knocked him out of this week’s Northern Trust Open, although no official reason has been given.
Clark is ranked 22nd in the Official World Golf Ranking and is hoping to play in next week’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. Perhaps taking this week off will allow him to heal in time for the first round at Dove Mountain a week from Wednesday.
Clark was replaced in the field by Brandt Jobe.