Even though the Ryder Cup at Medinah is only a month away, massive interest has already switched to the identity of the European captain for the 2014 clash at Gleneagles.
The decision won’t be finalised until February in Abu Dhabi but canvassing is under way with much depending on the developments on and off the course during this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship at the Scottish venue.
This year’s skipper, Jose-Maria Olazabal, showed his hand last week when announcing Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn as three of his assistants at Medinah. The fourth spot has been left open, almost certainly for his fellow Spaniard Miguel-Angel Jimenez who, however, would come strongly into contention for a ‘wild card’ pick with victory in the Scottish Highlands.
At one stage McGinley, after highly impressive performances as captain of successful Britain & Ireland Seve Trophy teams and assistant Ryder Cup captain, looked a certainty for Gleneagles in 2014. Indeed, he received a letter from Clarke promising him support and deferring his own challenge until 2016. Having carried out the task most effectively at Celtic Manor in 2010, it also appeared as if Colin Montgomerie was out of the equation.
However, things changed dramatically. Clarke’s victory in last year’s British Open obviously strengthened his claims on a job he would relish. Well known for his dislike of the PGA Centenary course at Gleneagles which hosts the 2014 contest, Clarke declined to play there over the past couple of years. In a telling move last week, he sought and received a late invitation to this week’s event.
Further motivation for Clarke would be an understandable doubt that should McGinley be chosen for 2014, the prospects of another Irishman being chosen two years later would be slim.
Given the number of worthy candidates for the captaincy, the widespread belief was that nobody should get the job more than once. The last time it happened was in 1995 when Scotland’s Bernard Gallacher completed a three-match stint. However, reports suggest that Montgomerie is keen for another stint, saying: “If the European Tour want me to be captain, I will be.”
As the 2014 match is being played in Scotland, 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie is seen as a likely contender and Jimenez and Bjorn are also testing the waters.
All six contenders, McGinley, Clarke, Bjorn, Lawrie, Jimenez and Montgomerie, are in the field for the £1.4 million Johnnie Walker event starting on Thursday.
Nicolas Colsaerts, bidding to become the first Belgian to play in the Ryder Cup, hopes to further enhance his prospects of a place having impressed in the weather-delayed Wyndham Championship in the US.
Sergio Garcia virtually ensured his spot by winning the Wyndham yesterday and now moves on to the Barclays, the first event on the lucrative FedEx Cup series.
With Olazabal deferring the announcement of his two “wild card” picks until Monday, a win at Bethpage Black (where he came fifth in the 2002 US Open), could still see Pádraig Harrington force the Spaniard’s hand.
Other Europeans in the $8m tournament include Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood, while in addition to Clarke and McGinley, the Irish players challenging at Gleneagles are Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin and Simon Thornton.
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