Surprise Ryder Cup assistant call-up for Clarke

Darren Clarke was today unveiled as the 'third man' to help Europe try to win back the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales on October 1-3.

Captain Colin Montgomerie will have three assistants and while Ireland's Paul McGinley and Dane Thomas Bjorn were expected Clarke is a surprise announcement - not least because he was second in the Scottish Open two weeks ago and might yet force himself onto the team.

But the 41-year-old Ulsterman, hero of the 2006 victory only a month after his wife Heather died of breast cancer, has agreed to come on board.

He is almost certainly the replacement for Jose Maria Olazabal, whom Montgomerie wanted to be part of his team. The Spaniard, however, was luke-warm about the idea of repeating his role under Nick Faldo in the defeat at Valhalla two years ago.

Olazabal, though, remains favourite to be the captain in Chicago in 2012.

Montgomerie said: "Any winning team has fantastic support behind the scenes and it is a great pleasure to introduce three experienced, passionate and well-respected people, people committed to regaining the Ryder Cup here in Wales.

"Thomas Bjorn has 16 victories worldwide and was the first Dane to play in the Ryder Cup, and captained the Europe side in the Vivendi Trophy last year. He has had past experience as a vice-captain at 2004 under Bernhard Langer and will bring passion to his role.

"We're delighted Darren is with us on this occasion and last but by no means least we have Paul McGinley. Paul is a European Tour committee member and who can forget the scenes in 2002 when he sank the winning putt at The Belfry for Sam Torrance's team?

"This is a team, these four of us here have huge respect from the European Tour members and from the 12 players who will play in the Ryder Cup. There will be no more vice-captains, these are the three that will help me hopefully regain Ryder Cup."

Montgomerie and Clarke were team-mates in five matches, winning four of them. Indeed Clarke's first game at Valderrama in 1997 was with the Scot as his fourball partner and they beat Fred Couples and Davis Love on the last.

Both were then overlooked for wild cards by Faldo, Clarke missing out despite winning a tournament the week before the side was named.

It was thought Montgomerie might go for a Welshman like Phillip Price because of where the match is, but instead he has increased the Irish presence.

Clarke's fellow Ulstermen Rory McIlroy and US Open champion Graeme McDowell are certain starters in the match and McGinley's fellow Dubliner Padraig Harrington is one of the favourites for a wild card as things stand, although he still has time to qualify automatically.

McGinley is confident that Europe will have a very strong team bidding to win back the trophy.

He said: "On paper this will be the strongest European team ever produced.

"Hopefully we can make the right decisions and win the Ryder Cup back.

"I am really looking forward to the role."

Bjorn said: "It is an honour to be part of the team behind the scenes trying to win back the Ryder Cup.

"We want to go to Wales and get that trophy back.

"To work with Monty will be a great experience and I am sure we have a strong team to win the trophy back."

Clarke said: "It will be an honour to work under Monty and be part of his team. We will do whatever we have to do to help him.

"It is hugely important that the team performs the way it can perform and, the way it is shaping up at the moment, it looks like we have a fantastic team."

Montgomerie revealed Jose Maria Olazabal had not been considered for a vice-captaincy role because of his ill health but tipped the Spaniard to captain the team in the future.

The Scot said: "Jose Maria will be a captain of the Ryder Cup team in the future but he is not keeping good health right now. It is important that these players here are together with other players (on the tour). I spoke to Jose Maria and he wished us the best of luck in our quest to regain this fabulous trophy."

There had been some speculation that there would be Welsh representation in Montgomerie's management structure, with Phillip Price tipped to have a role, and although that will now not be the case the captain is hopeful there will be a strong Welsh flavour.

He added: "A lot of deliberation was taken, we have Rhys Davies, 15th on the list and the top nine make it and we hope he does. We will have 40,000 Welsh people there and the honorary captain of Celtic Manor is Gareth Edwards, so we feel there will be Welsh representation at Celtic Manor."

The new vice-captains all agreed it was important that they were in place to support the team and the captain in what is a high-pressure environment.

Bjorn said: "2004 was a new experience for me but I was quite surprised to see how important a role the backroom staff can play.

"The captain has a lot of responsibility and someone has got to be with the team all the time. You need strong people, people the team respect, who walk into a room and almost give a captain's feeling.

"(The players) know you have got pedigree behind you so they feel like they get good information and the captain feels he gets good information too."

Asked if his role was to keep up team morale, Clarke added: "All of us are part of that. The team spirit has been fantastic at past Ryder Cups and we want to generate as much of that as possible. We want a relaxed atmosphere in the team room and get the best out of the players.

"Because we've been there and done it before I think we are a strong team. I don't think there has been a backroom team as strong as this at any Ryder Cup."

Irishman McGinley said: "We're all very good friends, but the big thing is we have been involved in winning Ryder Cup teams, we know what works and it's important we take those principles and ideas into this Ryder Cup."

Montgomerie, asked about the non-playing team he has assembled, said: "The four of us have huge respect from the players that will be in the team.

"I think this is the strongest team that we have assembled on and off the course.

"It is the strongest team in terms of making decisions. The four of us will be making the decisions, not just me."

Asked what would happen if he qualifies for the Europe team as a player, Clarke replied: "We have spoken at length about it and Monty says he wants me there one way or the other.

"If I do play well enough to give him an extra headache then so be it but right now I'm delighted to be part of his backroom staff."

McGinley and Bjorn are the men with the Midas touch when it comes to the Ryder Cup. Both have been involved in three matches and Europe have never lost.

McGinley, 43, sank the winning putt on his debut eight years ago and then was part of the successful 2004 and 2006 teams.

Bjorn won his first cap in the 1997 victory at Valderrama, coming back from four down to halve his singles with then Open champion Justin Leonard.

He missed the defeat in Boston two years later, but played his part alongside McGinley at The Belfry in 2002 and in 2004 was one of Bernhard Langer's assistants as Europe won by a record nine points in Detroit.

The 39-year-old became embroiled in a huge row with 2006 captain Ian Woosnam, however, after being overlooked for a wild card in favour of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.

"He has been the most pathetic captain I have ever seen," he said. "He came into the bar at the hotel on Sunday and gave me 20 seconds about Lee having won twice at The K Club. In a bar - that kind of sums everything up."

Bjorn was fined and apologised - and very soon afterwards was made chairman of the European Tour's players committee, the body which in January last year chose Montgomerie as Nick Faldo's successor.

Montgomerie in turn asked McGinley and Bjorn if they would be the respective captains of the Britain and Ireland and Continental Europe teams in the Vivendi Trophy.

Once both were viewed to have done a decent job there - McGinley received huge praise from the likes of McIlroy and McDowell after their win - it looked a given that they would be part of the backroom team for Celtic Manor.

The only real thing that could have changed that was if they played themselves into contention.

McGinley had stood down as an assistant to Faldo for that reason, but has never looked like making it this time following knee surgery late last year.

Bjorn won the Portuguese Open last month, but was still way off the qualifying mark.

Even though Montgomerie has tripled the number of assistants Faldo felt were needed - his other main 'helpers' were his son Matthew and radio presenter DJ Spoony - opposite number Corey Pavin has gone for four.

Pavin will have beaten 2006 captain Tom Lehman, probable next captain Love, Jeff Sluman and Paul Goydos, the player who shot 59 on the US Tour at the John Deere Classic two weeks ago, alongside him.

His predecessor Paul Azinger decided on three and in a novel move put Dave Stockton, Ray Floyd (both former captains) and Olin Browne in charge of four players each so that they formed bonds.

mfl

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