Johns Creek: British Open champion Darren Clarke believes Tiger Woods can contend for this week`s PGA Championship, the year`s final major, despite only recently coming back from a three-month injury layoff.
Woods practised at the Atlanta Athletic Club, enjoying a brief session on the range and the practice green before heading out on to the course with his good friend Arjun Atwal of India.
There was surprisingly little attention paid to Woods by the fans, perhaps due to the low expectations surrounding the former world number one, who has now sunk to 30th in the rankings.
Woods, who has claimed four PGA Championship titles, has struggled this year while battling injuries and trying to rebuild his golf swing and his private life following the breakup of his marriage.
He returned to the PGA Tour, after three months on the sidelines with leg injuries, at last week`s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational where he tied for 37th after displaying erratic form.
However, Northern Irishman Clarke believes Woods showed enough form last week in Akron, Ohio to indicate he could be a genuine contender for the PGA Championship on Sunday.
"I thought his game last week in the first two rounds was pretty good," said Clarke, who played alongside his good friend Woods for the first two days. "I thought he hit an awful lot of really, really good golf shots.”
"To come back after a long layoff, you can practise as much as you want, but until you get into competition and actually put yourself back into a competitive arena, it`s totally different.”
"He got last week under his belt ... great to see him back competing again ... and I`m sure this week, if Tiger plays the golf he can play, I have no doubt he can be in contention this week," Clarke added.
Woods, who has had four surgeries on his left knee over the years, has not won a major since the 2008 US Open nor any tournament worldwide since 2009 and British world number one Luke Donald does not expect that to change this week.
"From what I heard, he found a lot of positives in his game, but obviously it`s not where he wanted to be," Englishman Donald said of the American`s performance in Akron. "He wanted to win that tournament. That was his goal.
"It`s going to take some time, I think. It would surprise me if he went on and won in the next couple of weeks, just because coming off that injury, personally, for myself was very difficult, and I think everyone`s going to feel the same way."
Donald`s 2008 PGA Tour season was cut short after he had surgery on his left wrist.
"It is very difficult to come off a layoff from injury," the Briton added. "When I did it, when I injured my wrist, getting back into competition was completely different to hitting balls on the range.”
"You can feel very comfortable on the range, and getting back into that competitive mode is tough. It might take a little bit of time."
The 93rd PGA Championship starts on Thursday.