Clark back at Players, hoping to be able to defend title he won in 2010

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Tim Clark is coping with an elbow injury so severe that he went three months without playing golf.
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Associated Press

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Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 | 1:24 a.m.

Tim Clark will be at the TPC Sawgrass this week for the Players Championship, where last year he captured his first PGA Tour victory with the greatest 36-hole comeback in tournament history.

Whether he plays golf remains the question.

Clark is coping with an elbow injury so severe that he went three months without playing and only teed it up at the Masters because he was stubborn. He had rounds of 73-73 and missed the cut.

“I have had lots of treatment done, everything I can do to get better,” Clark said. “It’s been a slow process. I’m hoping I’m able to tee it up at the Players Championship right now. I’m still pretty unsure how it’s going to be by then. Play or not, I’ll be at Sawgrass for the week. I just hope I’ll be able to play.”

Only two other players have failed to mount a title defense at the Players -- Jerry Pate in 1983 because of a neck injury and Steve Elkington in 1998 because of sinus surgery.

Clark started his season with a tie for 17th at Kapalua and a runner-up finish at the Sony Open. After flying home to North Carolina, he started experiencing pain in his left elbow. The South African tried a cortisone shot, even blood spinning, without much progress. One therapist at Augusta suggested the source might be a pinched nerve.

He hopes that’s the case, although he concedes that diagnosis is “a bit of a question mark.” In some respects, it was an achievement for Clark to finish two rounds at the Masters.

“At no point did I feel very good there,” Clark said. “After Thursday, I really didn’t think I’d be able to play Friday. An hour-and-a-half before the round, we got my arm moving, and it was kind of OK to play. It was more of a case of me being stubborn, not really wanting to withdraw. I was encouraged by the fact that I could finish two rounds, even though I was still in quite a bit of pain, and encouraged that I didn’t shoot a couple of 80s.”

The Players Championship begins Thursday, which means Clark has had three full weeks to try to get ready.

“I think that I have to go in with the same mindset into the Players,” he said. “Even though I’m not at 100 percent right now, I have to plan on playing and probably go through the same process. Even if it’s little sore, get work done and try get to where I can at least compete.”

One shred of good news for Clark is that his wife gave birth to their first child -- a boy, Jack, on April 1. Clark’s plan was to compete in the Masters, then take a chunk of time off to be with his family. He’s had plenty of time at home lately.

“Once I get back to health, I’ll be back to playing a lot more,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get better soon. But it’s been nice to spend time at home with the newborn. He’s been great.”