Major blow as Duval succumbs to back injury

USPGA Championship: Clarke's preparations hit problems while World No 3 admits defeat in fitness battle
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The Independent Online

Darren Clarke's preparations for the 82nd USPGA Championship may have gone awry when he only arrived at Valhalla yesterday morning but at least he made it safely. David Duval, who came closest to challenging Tiger Woods in the final round of the Open at St Andrews last month, had to withdraw yesterday due to his continuing back problem.

Darren Clarke's preparations for the 82nd USPGA Championship may have gone awry when he only arrived at Valhalla yesterday morning but at least he made it safely. David Duval, who came closest to challenging Tiger Woods in the final round of the Open at St Andrews last month, had to withdraw yesterday due to his continuing back problem.

Duval began to feel pain in his back after the US Open at Pebble Beach but that did not stop him playing at Loch Lomond or St Andrews. By stretching each morning and evening, and by avoiding sitting for long periods, the 28-year-old American was able to compete and got within three strokes of Woods with nine holes to play at the Old Course before falling away on the back nine.

His name disappeared from the leaderboard when he took four to escape from the Road Bunker on the 17th. The world No 3 attempted to play in The International two weeks ago but had to quit the event after only six holes. An MRI scan diagnosed a ligament problem in the lower to middle back region.

Duval remained in his holiday base in Sun Valley, Idaho, to rest and exercise in the hope of relieving the pain. A decision on whether he plays in next week's NEC World Invitational in Akron, Ohio, will be taken next week.

Clarke, meanwhile, only made it here yesterday after a 6.15am flight from Philadelphia, where he had spent six hours the previous day waiting for a storm to abate. It was not exactly how the Irishman hoped to spend his 32nd birthday. He had to abandon a round at Pine Valley, one of the great courses of the world, after only one hole, and he had double-bogeyed that.

Nevertheless, Clarke arrived here in plenty of time to practise but restricted himself to playing the back nine with Lee Westwood in the hot and humid conditions.

No European has won the USPGA in modern times. Preparation is the key, and it has not passed unnoticed by either Westwood or Clarke that Woods, who will be attempting to become only the second player to win three majors in a year, is as far ahead in that area as he is on the course. Westwood played only nine holes each of the last two days and felt comfortable on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course. His victory in New Orleans two years ago also came on a Nicklaus course.

"I am trying not to overdo my practice for this tournament, as I usually do when I'm in America," Westwood said. "The facilities are so good, the range, the chipping green and the putting green, that it makes you want to practise. But you can be worn out before the tournament starts."

Last year at Medinah, Westwood was high up the leaderboard after two rounds, but suffered from dehydration over the weekend. He ended up on a saline drop for two hours on the Saturday night but the problem, he realised later, was caused by practising for three hours after his round on the Friday afternoon without taking enough fluids. "It's amazing how much you have to drink, not just water but isotonic drinks, not to feel ill," Westwood said.

Westwood has won four of his last nine tournaments and finished fifth in the US Open at Pebble Beach. His only blip came at St Andrews, which he cannot stand. Clarke has not played consistently well since winning the World Matchplay in February but added: "I'm due for another good run."

While acknowledging Woods' current superiority, both have been inspired by the world No 1's recent feats. "I am quite impressed when he wins tournaments by 10 or 15 shots," Westwood said. "It didn't frustrate me when he won the US Open, it makes me more determined to get up to that level."

Clarke said: "Some players may be deflated by what Tiger is doing but I'm not one of them. He is going to be the player to beat for the foreseeable future and will probably win two out of the four majors every year. But that leaves two for other players to win."

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