The 2011 British Open champion is not officially pulling out of the race yet, but it will be no surprise now if next Tuesday’s tournament committee meeting in Abu Dhabi comes down to a choice between McGinley and Colin Montgomerie.
Clarke himself raised the possibility last month of Montgomerie being recalled to face golfing great Tom Watson, America’s surprise choice to be captain at Gleneagles next year, three years after he was in charge for the victory in Wales.
But committee chairman Thomas Bjorn said this week: “I don’t have a strong view against appointing somebody twice, but there are a lot of other people I think could do a very good job.”
McGinley would appear to fit into that category. He has twice been a winning Britain and Ireland captain at the Seve Trophy and in five Ryder Cups — three as a player and the last two as an assistant captain — Europe have always come out on top.
Moreover, world number one Rory McIlroy is among those who has said he would like the 46-year-old Dubliner to be captain at Gleneagles next year and then Clarke in America in 2016.
However, a vast improvement in his form has led Clarke to believe he could yet return to the side in Scotland.
There is also the fact that winning the Open 18 months ago has opened doors to him again, particularly in the US — and there is a history of Ryder Cup captains suffering a downturn in their playing fortunes.
Clarke said: “Whenever I was initially mentioned I wasn’t playing very well. I played much better at the end of last year and have been thinking long and hard about it all over Christmas.
“As much as I would dearly love to be captain this may not be my time. I won one of the biggest prizes in golf by winning The Open and I am exempt for another three years (in the States).
“If I was given the opportunity to do the captaincy I’d effectively be throwing two of those years away.
“I’m still wrestling with it. It’s a tough one for me, but I want to play golf.”
Clarke said it was only right and proper he spoke to his fellow committee members — McGinley and Montgomerie included — before announcing any decision.
There has been speculation there could be a double captaincy decision in the Middle East, with Clarke the clear front-runner for Hazeltine in three years’ time.
Asked if taking his hat out of the ring could help him as regards 2016 he replied: “That’s not up to me. It’s down to the committee and we are only talking about this captaincy. I think it will be purely Gleneagles and that will be it.”
Meanwhile, Shane Lowry’s three under par 69 moved him to five under par and in a six-way tie for fourth but also six shots behind Scotland’s Scott Jamieson (64) and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (68) in second on 11-under par.
South African Louis Oosthuizen leads on 12 under after a 64 .
Pádraig Harrington birdied the last in a score of 71 to move to a share of 13th place on three under but was left ruing losing a ball and taking a double bogey after his drive at the 14th cannoned off a tree and could not be found.
“I played really poorly today and really struggled but putted really well,” he said.
Clarke shot a 68 to advance to a tie for 20th on two under par while Michael Hoey posted a 74 to drop to a share of 25th at two over par.