Clarke: Tiger needs time

Woods is currently taking time away from tournament golf as he continues to develop a new swing with biomechanics coach Chris Como following his injury-ravaged 2014 campaign.

The former world No 1 linked up with Como while he recovered from back surgery during the second half of last year, but his two starts on the PGA Tour this term have been blighted by poor form and further fitness problems.

Woods carded the worst round of his professional career at the Phoenix Open, hacking his way around TPC Scottsdale in 82 in the second round to finish joint last after 36 holes.

He showed signs of improvement with his short game at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, but he managed to complete only 11 holes on the first day before he was forced to withdraw due to pain in his lower back.

Woods insisted the problem was caused by a lengthy delay due to fog and not related to his surgery, but his wayward long-game was more of a concern and prompted him to announce he would not return to competitive action until he feels he is “tournament ready”.

Clarke, widely expected to be announced as Europe’s 2016 Ryder Cup captain next week, has much sympathy for his close friend and believes he needs time to find a swing he is comfortable with.

“Tiger???s been the best player in the world for a long, long time and he???s trying to change his swing again through injuries and he???s having to adapt,” Clarke told Sky Sports News HQ.

“Those injuries can take a little bit of time to go away and working on his swing is the same sort of thing, so he just needs a little bit of time, that???s all.

“You can get down, it???s quite easy to do, as it???s a pretty tough job out there at times. Whenever you???re trying to perform and you don???t do it, it???s particularly frustrating. But his talent is beyond question so I have no doubt he???ll be back again.”

But LPGA Tour legend Annika Sorenstam believes Woods faces a difficult challenge to break back into the world’s elite as concerns continue over his fitness.

“I can see that he wants to,” she told Sky Sports 4. “That’s the level he’s been playing on from the beginning and he knows he’s capable of doing that.

“The question is, ‘What is the pinnacle of his? Is that in 2000? Is that before? ‘A lot of things have happened since that time so the question is, ‘can his body hold up?’

“I’ve had an injury, I know what it’s like and if you’re not able to do the motions you need to because of an injury it certainly dampens the excitement and the possibilities of getting to the very top.

“He’s getting older and the younger ones are getting younger. Just look at Rory McIlroy and some of the young guys, it’s very competitive.”

Former US Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger agrees with Clarke that Woods can get back to the top, providing he finds a swing that works and then sticks to it rather than attempt to find the “perfect swing”.

“I’d like to see Tiger kick the video camera to the kerb,” Azinger told USA TODAY. “What Tiger has done is sacrifice a winning swing at the altar for a quest for the perfect swing. And a perfect swing doesn’t exist.

“Feel is the key here. A great player has to eliminate one side of the course and he’s fighting a two-way miss. He has to feel he won’t hook the ball instead of thinking how not to hook the ball.

“I think it’s great he’s taking a break because he has to find a way to claw his way back. His brilliant short game has camouflaged his declining ball-striking the past few years until now.”