'I told Tiger if he did that to me I would punch him in the face'
When Darren Clarke won The Open at Royal St George’s in 2011 he revealed in his post-championship press conference that a couple of texts from Tiger Woods, who was out injured, had helped to spur him on to finally getting over the line in a major.
“He was giving me a couple of bits of advice, which was brilliant. It made it a little bit easier than what it otherwise might have been.”
The pair have been close friends from the days when they both worked together with Butch Harmon and Clarke remains optimistic that his old mate can still add to his already impressive major haul…
Where would you rank Tiger amongst the greats?
Tiger is the best I’ve played with by leaps and bounds. I’ve not played with Mr Nicklaus but Tiger hits shots that you cannot actually hit. I spent a lot of time with him in Vegas at the Harmon School, Butch was coaching both of us, and we would go out for dinner and we got friendly. We would practise and play all the time.
What do you remember of your World Match Play final in 2000?
We were having breakfast before the 36-hole final. Next to me was my caddie Billy Foster and my manager Chubby, beside Tiger is Butch, his manager Mark Steinberg and Stevie Williams.
He had holed a pitch at Memorial at the 15th and started running round the green, so I joked to Tiger if he did that to me in the final I would punch him in the face. He told me that I wouldn’t be able to catch him.
He had an off day and I had a good day and I beat him 4&3. The tournament was sponsored by Andersen Consulting and I’m stood there with a big cheque for $1 million and unfortunately I thanked Arthur Andersen live on national TV, it even made the front page of the Financial Times.
Tiger has a real humble side to him. I went to my locker and he had taped the local rules sheet with a message that said congratulations, that I should be proud of myself… and that I was “still a fat f***”!
What did you make of him at Le Golf National?
I think his Ryder Cup struggles were partly physical but if you think about where he came from and with people writing him off he has fought and battled so hard that when he got there and won the Tour Championship he was spent.
The mental exertion it took out of him to get over that hurdle at 42 will have been enormous.
He has had so many surgeries and he can’t do what he used to do but, as the commentators call it, he still moves the needle like nobody else. You play in a tournament with him in it and the crowds are exponentially different.
He is so good and people want to see him. Now he’s getting a bit older they want to see him before he stops playing.
Can he win another major?
I think he can and his best chance is The Open. That needs a bit of guile and experience and he controls his ball so well.
He showed that at Carnoustie until the back nine and the only reason he didn’t win this year is because he hadn’t been there for a while. Now he’s won one, and a big one, then he can definitely win at least another one.
Darren Clarke was speaking to NCG as an ambassador for Loch Lomond Whiskies. Clarke will help create The Open Course Collection: Royal Portrush Edition which will be a 19-year old Single Malt and will go on sale in early 2019. Visit Loch Lomond Whiskies’ website for more information.