Paul McGinley has been closer to Darren Clarke than almost anyone over the past decade and probably the man best qualified to assess his friend's chances of emerging from the golfing equivalent of the Mariana Trench - the world's deepest hole in the ground.

Apart from sharing the same ISM management team, the Irish pair were next-door neighbours in Sunningdale for many years and their sons still go to the same school.

McGinley's wife Alison was one of Heather Clarke's closest friends and the Dubliner is hopeful, though far from certain, that Clarke can regain the kind of form made him one of golf's biggest names.

"Of course he'll come back, he is such a strong player," McGinley said, before adding, "but you never know. You never know. He certainly has the ability.

"It just takes time. It is pretty hard to play golf when things aren't going well off the course and he has had a pretty tough time, not just in the last year since Heather died but the two years previous to that too.

"I think time is the best healer and things will evolve over time. He has a very good support system behind him in terms of the kids getting looked after. He has got two great boys, wonderful boys, who are in a very good school and have great people that look after them.

"Family is becoming important to him because Heather's family is obviously very supportive and Darren's family is very supportive. So I think they have a strong network of support for the kids, even though they have lost their mother.

"There is a strong bond of support with Heather's family too as well as Darren's family. We live two miles apart. My lad Killian and Darren's son Conor are inseparable in school. They are together all the time."

Happy that a proposed move by the Clarke clan to Manchester has now been knocked definitively on the head, McGinley wants the world to leave his friend in peace to start his life all over again.

"He has had a very hard time but he has dealt with things as well they can be dealt with. As everyone knows, mourning is a process that goes on a bit and that will be the case with Darren," McGInley explained. "I am not surprised in the least that he has struggled. Everybody grieves in a different way and it is understandable. Not alone did he have the grieving but he had all the emotion of the Ryder Cup in a short space of time. It was a difficult time because a lot of it was done so publicly, particularly with the Ryder Cup being held in Ireland.

"He has dealt with it very well and he dealt with the Ryder Cup situation extremely very well. Anybody who has lost their wife a matter of weeks before the Ryder Cup would have gone through a similar thing. But for an Irish guy, playing in front of his home crowd, particularly in such a big thing as the Ryder Cup, it was obviously a very difficult time.

"I think he had loads of support in the team and to be honest, I think it was a big part of our success. I think it was something that united the team even more than before. We all knew Heather so well. She was part of the team. She had played such a huge part in previous Ryder Cup campaigns. She had been a very strong personality and as everyone knows the girls play a large role in the Ryder Cup too. And she had played a very vibrant role in the previous Ryder Cups so, it was ironic that it was the Ryder Cup that was his first tournament back afterwards."

With four Ryder Cup victories and 13 tournament wins on Clarke's resumé, McGinley has to stop himself from busting out laughing when he hears people say that Clarke's career has been one of underachievement.

"I don't buy into that argument at all. He has two WGC wins, which are just one step down from a major," McGinley said. "It is amazing how people see things. You put a major win in the context of the rest of his career, on top of everything else he has done and everyone will have seen that he has had a wonderful career.

"He has been very unfortunate that some of the best years of his career have been affected by Heather's illness. People only think it has been tough for him since Heather died but it has been tough for two years, two and a half years before that.

"They have had a really tough time as a family and he has done really well to play as well as he has done over all the time when something that horrible was happening in his personal life.

"Over his career. he has been the best driver of a golf ball in terms of straightness and distance of anybody in the last century of top professional golf. That is a pretty high accolade. He is a wonderful driver of the golf ball. A hell of a player as everybody knows.

"When he is on form, when he plays on confidence, he can be absoilutely fantastic. You look at his Ryder Cup record and while some may say he might have won the tournaments, his Ryder Cup record stands up to anyone's."

McGinley knows that Clarke came close to giving up golf completely for a while last year when his wife was battling for her life.

"It was a see-saw of emotions. One day there was hope over the horizon, then all of a sudden it was all the other way. It was a daily thing from very much a high to very much a low. And trying to keep the stability in the family and trying to keep it away from the boys as much as they could. It was difficult to do and him trying to play his career on top of that.

"He was away from home 30 weeks of the year. He can't do his business being at home, he has to be on the road and she had to handle going into hospital on her own a large number of times. Those are the small things that people don't realise. She was very much on her own, okay, she had her mother there but her husband was away.

"He was feeling guilty, of course. It is hard to have any focus on your game when all that is going on. He had a period there after the Open last year when he didn't play for two or three months and that was tough. He did get away from it all. But he still has to play for his family and make a living.

"I think golf helped to a great extent in keeping him sane. He has an ability to refocus and making the Ryder Cup after her death was a great thing to look forward to a matter of six or seven weeks later.

"Playing in front of your home crowd is a tough thing because you want to do so well. You want to do well so badly and it is tough. But it is also an enjoyable situation and I know Darren felt exactly the same way. I don't think he was over exerted by Woosie, playing him once every day.

"And I think he got the most out of him by doing that. He won his three games and what more can you ask. He'll be back in Valhalla. Darren is such a talented player, I will be very surprised if he is not."