Sprint finish in a race that wasn't supposed to be a race
Choosing the European Ryder Cup captain is not unlike choosing a pope. It’s 15 men in a room – the Tournament Players Committee, to give them their full title – and the door stays closed until a name emerges. One of the more intriguing aspects to this go-round is the fact that three of the 15 members of the committee are the men who have had their name in the hat.
If we take it that Clarke is definitely out of the race, that will mean McGinley and Montgomerie having to leave the room while the captaincy is being decided.
As it happens, that will only leave 11 to tease it out, as Miguel Angel Jimenez is laid up with a broken leg after a skiing accident and Robert Karlsson won’t be in Abu Dhabi either. Committee chairman Thomas Bjorn will only vote if there is a deadlock. So effectively, it comes down to 10 men. They are Clarke, Felipe Aguilar, Paul Casey, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Joakim Haeggman, David Howell, Rafael Jacquelin, Peter Lawrie, Francesco Molinari and Henrik Stenson.
Molinari is the only member of the winning 2012 team who will be in the room, which could count against McGinley as over half of that team – including Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald – have already declared their support for him and he could do with their voices on his side. Of the others on the committee, Stenson is firmly in the Montgomerie camp.
Not only did he propose the Scot for the job at the last minute in 2010, he also took it upon himself last week to indirectly tell McGinley to suck it up if he didn’t make the cut this time around.
“Whether Gleneagles is Paul’s only chance, I am not sure,” said Stenson. “If you have been a vice-captain it’s important you accept that reward and not be disappointed if you then are not appointed captain. There are a lot of other great European players who have not been appointed Ryder Cup captain.”
All of which seemed a fairly heavy hint from a man on the inside that a job that looked McGinley’s for the taking last summer could now be slipping from him. Two things had changed in the meantime, neither of which reflected especially well on Clarke. The first was the rumour that was leaked in the wake of the win at Medinah that Clarke had been chosen for the job.
Out of the blue, Pádraig Harrington came out and said: “I believe that the inside track is that Darren Clarke is going to get it.”
Within days, there were reports in the English press unofficially confirming that it had been offered to him and quoting Lee Westwood saying Clarke’s major title gave him the edge over McGinley.
Clarke, for his part, took to Twitter to deny that anything had been locked down. “To clarify, I have not been offered the Ryder Cup captaincy. It’s not decided by the committee until January. Would be a huge honour if asked.”
It was a reasonable stab at calming the waters but still a long way removed from the hand-written letter he had sent McGinley just a year previously. So much for giving him his full support.
The second fly in the McGinley ointment came with the naming of Tom Watson as the American captain just before Christmas. In and of itself, this didn’t need to be a big deal for the European side, yet for whatever reason Clarke was moved to muse aloud on what it might mean.
“Maybe we have to have a look and consider other people as well,” he said. “Whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence. We seriously need the right man for the job. We do have an (unwritten) rule where we don’t ask anybody to do it again, but we might have to look at that.” It didn’t take a genius to work out who he was referring to.