Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn were set to discover on Wednesday which of them will have the daunting task of following in Paul McGinley’s footsteps as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain.
McGinley’s leadership was unanimously praised after Europe’s five-point win at Gleneagles last September, with Sergio Garcia highlighting the Dubliner’s “modern and meticulous” approach and world number one Rory McIlroy hailing McGinley’s “absolutely immense” influence.
That influence extends into helping choose his successor, with McGinley and predecessors Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie joined by European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and players’ representative David Howell on the five-man selection panel meeting at Wentworth.
Former Open champion Clarke has long been a heavy favourite despite a strained relationship with McGinley and the fact that Olazabal could reasonably be expected to vote for fellow Spaniard Jimenez.
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 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 McGinley insists his relationship with Clarke will not cause any issues in the selection process.
“’Absolutely no problem whatsoever,” McGinley said when asked the day after the victory at Gleneagles. “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 maintained a noticeable 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.