The US will tee off in Minnesota on September 30 as odds-on favourites with the bookmakers to reclaim the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008 but Open Championship success for Henrik Stenson, an Olympic gold medal for Justin Rose and now last Monday’s Deutsche Bank Championship victory for McIlroy in the FedEx Cup play-off series has given the Europeans a real lift.
“We all know, everybody knows, Rory is the best player in the world. When he holes putts, he wins,” Clarke said yesterday in Dublin as he hosted an Aer Lingus Putting Masterclass at St Anne’s GC. “He started holing a few in Boston and obviously came out on top. I hope he keeps on doing it.
“If he can keep on doing that all the way through, he’s going to win more than the FedEx, and then hopefully do the same thing on the Ryder Cup.
“To have the best player in the world playing the way he is and holing putts, it’s massive to have him on the team. Not just that, but with Lee (Westwood) playing as well as he did in Switzerland and Matt Fitz(patrick) and Danny Willett, all of them showing form as well, it’s good to see all the guys coming into form at the right time.
“Is Rory a leader? He’s inspirational. Is he a leader? We shall see, but certainly I’m looking at him, wanting him to bring a lot more than his golf game, which I’m sure he will do. But you’ve got more senior players than Rory there as well.
"Even though Rory is probably the best player in the world, he’s still part of the team. It’s difficult to make any guy more important than the other guy. That’s not really my way of doing things. So we’ll see.”
Clarke does believe McIlroy’s return to form can only improve Europe’s chances against the Americans. “We all know how good Rory is. We’re a very close-knit community out on the golf tour. Everybody knows everybody and all that stuff, we’re all pretty close.
“Just to see Rory starting to knock a few putts in again – because you can hit the ball as good as you want, but if you’re not knocking in putts you’re going to struggle. The whole team want Rory holing putts.
“They all want Rory playing well because he’s a big player for the team.”