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Tiger misses PGA practice but Clarke expects him to contend

Tiger Woods was a surprising absentee on Tuesday for PGA Championship practice but won the backing of...

Tiger Woods looks on from the fifth hole during the first round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on May 12, 2011. Picture: AFP

Tiger Woods was a surprising absentee on Tuesday for PGA Championship practice but won the backing of British Open champion Darren Clarke who believes the American can contend for the year's final major.

Woods, who played 18 holes in practice at the hosting Atlanta Athletic Club last Monday, is expected to be back at the par-70 course on Wednesday when he is scheduled to hold a news conference on the eve of the championship.

The former world number one, 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 <place w:st="on"><city w:st="on">Akron, <state w:st="on">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 U.S. Open nor any tournament worldwide since 2009 and British world number one Luke Donald does not expect that to change this week.

DONALD DOUBT

"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 <city w:st="on"><place w:st="on">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.