Padraig Harrington believes Tiger Woods has put his family ahead of golf by passing up the chance to play some warm up events before he returns at the Masters.
There has been speculation that the beleaguered world number one might use next week’s Tavistock Cup exhibition or the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill to knock some rust off his game and diffuse media hysteria before the season’s first major.
But the Dubliner reckons that Woods’ decision to wait until Augusta to return to the game for the first time since he won the JBWere Australian Masters last November is proof that he is putting his family first.
Speaking from Tampa in Florida where he is preparing for this week’s Transitions Championship, Harrington said: “Tiger needs to get back to the golf course to bring balance back to his life because that is what he does. I think the fact that he is not coming out and playing before the Masters means that the emphasis is more on his family that it is on his golf.”
Woods needs another four major wins to equal Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional major championship victories but Harrington believes that while it is not out of the question, it will be difficult for him to claim his 15th grand slam title after five months on the sidelines.
“Clearly he would be more competitive if he did play before the Masters,” Harrington said. “I think he is well capable of winning but it is harder to win when you haven’t been playing and haven’t been competitive.”
Steve Stricker suggested last week that the powers at Augusta might not be happy with Woods overshadowing their event by using it as his comeback tournament.
But Harrington is certain that both the players and the men that run the Masters Tournament will welcome him back with open arms.
“The players just want to see him back and there is no issue there,” Harrington said. “In fairness to the Masters, it was there before Tiger and it will be there after Tiger. While there will be an extra bit of media attention on Tiger, I think it just shows the stature of the event that it will be well capable of handling that.
“Augusta would pride itself on being a golf event and they would be there to show that they are a golf event that week and that they would handle it.”
Harrington played with Woods in the first two rounds of the US Open and the US PGA last year and he would have no qualms about playing alongside American at Augusta next month
Dismissing fears that it could become a circus, he said: “That would be fine. Of all the places to play in the world, Augusta would be the best place in the world to play. It wouldn’t be an issue at all. It might be tough at another golf course but not at Augusta. There will be no hullabaloo on the golf course.”
Darren Clarke believes Woods has made the right decision to come back at the Masters and fully expects the troubled world No 1 to be right in the mix for his 15th major title despite the fact that he won’t have played a competitive round for nearly five months.
In Morocco for the Trophée Hassan II, Clarke said: “I think it’s a great venue for him to come back and play at because the course is so good and he likes it so much there, I think it’ll be great.
“I thought he might have played the Tavistock Cup next week but obviously not. I think with all that undue attention and everything, the tournament will probably be better off for it.
“You know, Tiger doesn’t make many wrong decisions when it comes to his golf. So I’m sure he’s doing what he thinks is best and Augusta will be fine.”
World No 2 Steve Stricker said last week that a Woods comeback at the Augusta would turn the Masters into the Tiger comeback.
But Clarke reckons the players will be delighted to have the game’s best player back in action because winning a green jacket with him in the field would make their victory even more special.
He said: “I’m sure all the players will be delighted to see him back playing. It’s great to see him coming back again. It’s absolutely brilliant.
“We all want him back because he’s the best player on the planet and everyone wants to compete against the best.
“You know, when you win a tournament it’s fantastic. When you win it and he’s playing it’s a little bit more fantastic.”
Clarke won’t be playing the Masters this years but he insisted that he would be glued to the TV to watch every minute of Woods’ return to the game.
Clarke said: “It’ll be brilliant. I for one, like everybody else, will be watching a lot of it to see how he plays. But I’m sure he will be right there in the mix.”