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May 12 2011

10:14 PM

Clark opens defense with 2-over 74

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Defending champion Tim Clark's first round of golf in more than a month went about like he expected.

Some good, some bad. Some pain, some progress.

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Clark

Clark shot 2-over 74 in Thursday’s opening round of THE PLAYERS Championship, a mostly trouble-free day that came as the South African tries to return from an elbow injury so severe he went three months without playing and only teed it up at the Masters in April because he was stubborn. He had rounds of 73-73 and missed the cut.

He felt considerably better at TPC Sawgrass.

"For the most part, it's getting better, so I'm encouraged by that," said Clark, the tournament's defending champion. "It's better than I expected it would be two weeks ago. If you asked me two weeks ago, I didn't even know if I would be able to play. So it's improved a lot."

Clark was runner-up at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, but upon returning home noticed a problem in his elbow. Despite pain, he played in the Masters, but only because it's a major. He took out his clubs Saturday for the first time since Augusta and returned to defend his lone PGA TOUR victory.

"You've got to at some point test it to see where you're at," he said. "You've got to come out and play. There's always a possibility that by actually playing and doing stuff that it gets better. At some point I would have started to play and this just kind of fit right around the right sort of time."

He made two birdies and four bogeys Thursday, and had one club slip out of his hands. After hitting his tee shot on the par-3 No. 13, the club soared from his grip.

"You've got to hit a divot and dig it in," he said. "It wasn't a massive amount of pain, but I'm cautious of it. I'm scared to dig it in."

He ended up 50 feet left of the hole and made par. It was one of several awkward-feeling shots during the round.

"Every now and then, I have a good swing and it feels good," said Clark, who hasn't decided whether he will play in next week's tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. "But there's a few swings that hurt." – Associated Press

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