McGinley set for Ryder nod

PAUL McGINLEY last night gave the clearest indication yet that he will be one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains when the Ryder Cup takes place at Celtic Manor next October.

Heretofore, the 43-year-old insisted that he wished to be a playing member of the side and would only consider the offer of the vice-captaincy from Colin Montgomerie when all hope of doing so had evaporated. When I asked if there had been any recent developments – both Montgomerie and McGinley played in the French Open at the week-end – McGinley was up front with his reply.

“It’s not for me to say but put it this way, if I’m asked, it’s highly likely that I will take it,” McGinley said at the first round of the JP McManus pro-am in Adare Manor yesterday. “My golf has been so poor this year that I’m not even close to making the team. Even if I won twice between now and the end of the season, I don’t think I would be good enough to make the team. You can read between the lines.”

The last remark, of course, was the clincher and it means that direct Irish interest at Celtic Manor will be considerable with Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy already assured of their places, Pádraig Harrington likely to make sure in the near future and McGinley lined up as a vice captain. The situation was much the same in 2006 at the K Club when Harrington, McGinley and Darren Clarke were all in the side and Des Smyth was one of Ian Woosnam’s vice captains.

“I’ve learned a lot from all the matches I’ve been in, the different dynamics, how a team is set out and this is going to be different again because we are going to be such strong favourites,” he pointed out. “Of course being vice captain would be a good experience if I was ever to be captain of the side. The more experience I have, the greater chance I have at getting the captaincy. You don’t go out like a political broadcast and say you would love to be vice captain. You have to be asked to do it. And it’s very important for me if I want to be captain that I play to a much higher standard than I have done this year.”

Montgomerie has stated he planned to name his vice captains on July 20th, two days after the end of the Open Championship.

Meanwhile an even par round of 72 by McIlroy was a decent score on a day when many of the game’s greatest struggled to cope with the demands of the magnificent Robert Trent Jones Senior creation.

It also convinced McIlroy that his game was in good shape after his fourth place finish in the French Open on Sunday. Indeed, he was feeling so bullish as he prepared for next week’s British Open at St Andrews that he stated “I probably played my best golf of the year tee to green in France. I hit it great.”

McIlroy is an outstanding bet at 16/1 for glory at St Andrews as it is a course over which he has never failed to break 70, twice as an amateur and six times as a professional. And it certainly doesn’t harm his prospects that McDowell made the big breakthrough in the US Open only two weeks ago.

“I’ve seen first hand how much hard work he has put in,” said McIlroy. “And then he’s got so much belief in himself. It’s almost as if every time he gets himself into contention, he seems to have really either finished it off or made a really good effort at it. At Pebble Beach, he got himself in front and stayed there and all credit to him. He was the one that lasted the longest on a very difficult golf course.

“I was watching on television and crying for some reason. When his dad ran on to the green, I was watching with (girlfriend) Holly and I looked at her and we were just crying. It was just amazing that he won a major. It showed how much hard work he’s put in and he’s one of my closest friends so it was great to see him do well.”

In less emotional moments, McIlroy has begun to realise that if McDowell, who before Pebble Beach, was ranked some 26 places behind him in the world rankings and way down the bookmakers list of favourites, could land a major, so, then should he also be able to do so.

“It definitely gives me an extra incentive,” he agreed. “I look at him and say, well, if GMac can go ahead and do it, hopefully I can do so as well. It would be nice to be one-all going into 2011.”

If the 21 year-old, who improved one place in the world rankings yesterday from 10th to 9th, is to achieve that goal, there could hardly be a better place to do so than St Andrews. As we have seen, his record there is fantastic and he aims to keep it going.

“It is my favourite course,” he acknowledged. “Any time you play well at a golf course and you go back, you always have good memories and those good memories, well, it’s like an extra shot. It keeps you going and you’re looking forward to playing holes again. It will be different from the sort of golf we’ve been playing for the last few weeks and I’m really looking forward to it. The Open at St Andrews is probably the most special event that you can play. I’m pretty excited at where my game is at the moment.”

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