Former Open champion Darren Clarke remains a strong favourite to be named European Ryder Cup captain for 2016 on Wednesday.
Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn are the contenders to succeed Paul McGinley at Hazeltine in September next year, when Europe will be looking to maintain their recent dominance with a seventh win in the last eight contests.
McGinley is part of the five-man selection panel who will each have a vote when they meet at European Tour headquarters in Wentworth, with predecessors Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie joined by European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and players representative David Howell.
Sources close to Clarke are understood to be quietly optimistic that the Northern Irishman has enough support to get the nod, although the 46-year-old is understandably said to be not taking anything for granted.
Clarke was forced to deny a newspaper report in October 2012 that he had been offered the captaincy for 2014, a role which eventually went to McGinley as the relationship between the former friends became significantly strained.
Clarke had sent McGinley a letter in 2011 supporting the latter’s bid to become captain in 2014, but later changed his mind and also put himself forward for the role.
And when Tom Watson was named US captain in December 2012, Clarke suggested 2010 captain Montgomerie should also be considered as ”whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence”.
With the public backing of players such as Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter, McGinley subsequently won the day, but admitted last year that his conversations with Clarke were now ”short and sweet” and amounted to little more than passing pleasantries.
Graeme McDowell has urged Clarke and McGinley to put their differences aside for the sake of the European cause and immediately after his highly-praised role in the five-point win at Gleneagles, McGinley insisted his relationship with Clarke would not cause any issues in the selection process.
“’Absolutely no problem whatsoever,” McGinley said. “I’m going to be very professional in my input. I’m going to get opinions from a lot of players and a lot of people before I put my opinion forward as to what it will be. Just like I was very much pushed over the line by the players, I want to get the opinion of the players.
”I think we’re very fortunate in Europe, a little bit like the Liverpool soccer team and the boot room, I think a lot of us have benefited hugely from being vice-captains. Darren has been a vice-captain along with many other guys. We will see where that all evolves and I’ll make a professional decision based on the views of people that I respect.”
As with McGinley before him, Clarke has had the support of high-profile players such as McIlroy, McDowell and Lee Westwood and noticeably maintained a high media profile at Gleneagles.
The 2011 Open champion is competing in the Dimension Data pro-am in South Africa this week – along with eldest son Tyrone – but has struggled with his game in recent seasons.
In contrast, Jimenez is still competing on the European Tour at the age of 51 while winning titles on the Seniors Tour, while Bjorn qualified to play at Gleneagles and finished on the winning team for a third time in three appearances.
Whoever is chosen on Wednesday can expect their opposite number to be 2012 captain Davis Love, who will be given a chance at redemption after being on the wrong end of the ’Miracle at Medinah’ according to reports in the United States.
Love, whose side led 10-6 going into the singles in Chicago only to lose by a single point, was part of the 11-man task force created to examine all aspects of the United States Ryder Cup process after the defeat at Gleneagles, but was thought to be behind 2008 captain Paul Azinger and Fred Couples in the pecking order.