AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Darren Clarke was one of the more popular winners of the British Open because of his zest for living and the way he relates to the common man, not to mention how he coped so publicly with the death of his wife, Heather, from breast cancer just one month before the 2006 Ryder Cup.
It was suggested to him Tuesday that it was easy to root for Clarke, followed by this question: Why should someone root for Tiger Woods?
“Good question,” Clarke said, pausing briefly. “Because beneath it all, beneath all the stuff that’s happened, self-inflicted or otherwise, he’s essentially a really good kid – a man – beneath everything. Sometimes his media image has been portrayed in a very poor, poor way, some of that, again, from some of the stuff that he’s been through. But underneath it all, he has been a tremendous friend to me.
“And there’s a real good side to Tiger Woods that nobody ever fortunately gets a chance to see. That’s why.”
They will be paired together for the first two rounds of the Bridgestone Invitational, where Woods is a seven-time winner and Clarke won in 2004. Clarke said he doesn’t mind competing against a friend, at least until a title is on the line.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve got the opportunity to play with Tiger in his first tournament back. I think it’s brilliant. Hopefully, I’m able to give him a little bit of stick and make him laugh a little bit the first couple of days.”
It’s that humor that made them such close friends.
They first played together at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in the 1996 British Open, Woods’ final major before turning pro. They hit it off immediately and have remained friends, even after Clarke took him down in the final of the Match Play Championship at La Costa in 2000, when both worked under Butch Harmon.
Woods sent him a series of text messages after Clarke won the British Open last month, although neither would say the content. It likely included a few words that couldn’t be printed.
How could two players who seem so opposite be such good friends?
“He sort of got my sense of humor and I got his,” Clarke said. “I give him a little stick and what have you. I don’t think anybody gives him that much stick. He’s been a very, very good friend to me over a very long period of time. I’ve got no idea why, but we just get on very well.”
DALY AND COMMISSIONERS: John Daly ran into his share of trouble early in his career when Deane Beman was the PGA Tour commissioner, getting suspended in 1993 for picking up his ball before finishing the 12th hole at Kapalua.
Even so, Daly said he didn’t rejoice when Beman retired and was succeeded by Tim Finchem.
“I never really liked Deane, but one thing about him, I respected him. He was approachable,” Daly said Tuesday from the Reno-Tahoe Open. “I can’t talk to Finchem. Maybe it’s the TV contract and his job is more frustrating than Deane’s was because the money is so big. But I’ve never gotten to know Finchem the way I got to know Deane. I got to know Deane’s family and we got to being friends.”
Daly said Beman constantly got on him for quitting, such as getting disqualified for not signing his card after shooting high scores.
“Finchem’s plate is so full, and he’s got a lot of other players to deal with, I’m just not as high on his priority list,” said Daly, who has not had a full-exempt card the past five years. “But Tim did call me to say he was proud of me for what I was doing, with the weight loss and not drinking. That was a shock. I wouldn’t have expected him to do that.”
CADDIE FOR HIRE: Tiger Woods still hasn’t settled on a permanent caddie, using longtime friend Bryon Bell for the Bridgestone Invitational.
That’s not to say he hasn’t had a few offers.
“How many? I hear there’s been a few,” Woods said. “People who are not caddies out here? A ton. So yeah, we’ve gotten a lot of interesting ones. But as far as a timetable … right now I’m trying to play this week with Bry, and hopefully next week, as well, and maybe get myself in the playoffs.”
PGA champion Martin Kaymer has been through a few caddies already, recently firing Craig Connelly and picking up Christian Donald. He said it takes about two or three weeks for a caddie to figure out a player’s game.
“I know a lot of people, a lot of friends of mine would love to caddie for Tiger,” Kaymer said. “If he needs someone, I think I can find him someone.”
CLOSED ON TUESDAY: Tiger Woods didn’t have much of a crowd following him when he played nine holes Tuesday morning at Firestone. There were eight writers, six photographers, three Nike employees, his coach and spokesman, agent and two security officers.
But no fans.
There was a reason for that. The Bridgestone Invitational staff decided months ago to close the course to the public on Tuesday. It discovered in recent years that with a small field, and a limited number of players on the course on Tuesday, that fans milled around the clubhouse without much to see.
Tournament director Don Padgett III said by closing the course to the public on Tuesday, the money saved by not running shuttles, hiring the extra security and running concession stands could slightly add to the charity donation at the end of the week.
The tour also closed Doral on Tuesday of the Cadillac Championship.
WALKER CUP: The U.S. team at the Walker Cup will have two players who have won on the Nationwide Tour this year.
Russell Henley and Harris English, who both played at the University of Georgia, were among four of 10 players selected to the American team that will play Great Britain & Ireland at Royal Aberdeen on Sept. 10-11. The other two selected were U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay, the low amateur at the U.S. Open who has had four top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour this summer.
The other six players will be selected later this summer.
DIVOTS: A year ago, there were 46 players who had all four rounds in the 60s at The Greenbrier Classic. This year there were none. … U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Darren Clarke have been given honorary lifetime membership on the European Tour. … The Women’s British Open will return to Royal Birkdale in 2014. … U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Darren Clarke will join Lee Westwood in the Thailand Golf Championship, a new Asian Tour event with a $1 million purse to be played Dec. 15-18, one week after the Dubai World Championship.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Bubba Watson are the only Americans from the last Ryder Cup to have won a tournament this year.
FINAL WORD: “I genuinely hope he gets his game back up to the level that it was before. Because it was awesome.” – Darren Clarke on Tiger Woods.