Clarke's coach attacks Poulter selection
While Darren Clarke went fishing yesterday and then retained his air of dignified acceptance to his controversial exclusion from the Ryder Cup, his coach's outburst hinted at the depth of disaffection running through Team Clarke.
It is fair to suggest that should Europe lose their first match against America in nine years later this month, then Nick Faldo – or, for that matter, Ian Poulter – will not be receiving any consolation cards carrying an Ulster postmark.
Ewen Murray, the former Tour professional who will be commentating on the biennial dust-up for Sky Sports in Kentucky, was scathing about the captain's wild card picks in Gleneagles on Sunday night and, in particular, about Faldo favouring Poulter over his client and friend. "Right now, Clarke's game is arguably better than it's ever been, but more than anything else, he will be missed in the team-room," said Murray.
"The Americans have huge respect for Clarke and they know how tough he and Lee Westwood are to beat. Lee and Darren have a 72 per cent success rate in foursomes and fourballs. The fact Clarke has seven top 10s with two wins this season and is not going to be at Valhalla has no doubt given [Paul] Azinger's men a huge boost."
What has angered Murray, and it will inevitably be assumed the rest of the Clarke camp, is not just Poulter's selection – "a player who is fresh off two missed cuts and who has had one round under 68 all year with no victories", so pointed out Murray – but the circumstances in which the flamboyant Englishman was absent from last week's Johnnie Walker Championship.
"Ian came into the last counting tournament with a more than realistic chance of making the automatic top 10," he said. His late withdrawal, claims Murray, "would not go down too well with his new team-mates". "There was Oliver Wilson and Soren Hansen sweating blood to make the top 10 and they deserve their places," he added. And he also went on to suggest that Poulter must have known about his selection before he decided to cancel his trip to Scotland.
"Should Ian have been picked? Of course he shouldn't. Not being at Gleneagles beggars belief for so many reasons," Murray said. "A private jet from his sponsors in America and in a few hours he could have sniffed the River Tay air having landed in Dundee. In half an hour, a limo would have him admiring the perfect lawns lovingly manicured by the staff of the Gleneagles Hotel.
"He boarded that jet...and headed for the wheelbarrow event that is part of the FedEx Cup. Poor? I think so. But then, why would you cross the Atlantic when you are already in the team? Please don't expect me to believe that wasn't the case."
Poulter has already expressed his "hurt" at suggestions by his fellow professionals that he was "given the nod" by Faldo and may also feel slighted by a few more of Murray's barbs. "He will have his close friend DJ Spoony spinning the discs in the team-room," said Murray, referring to Faldo calling in the Radio One DJ to assist with the team's "entertainment". "And he will have the opportunity to add to the one Ryder Cup point he won against Chris Riley four years ago. Sadly, Chris is now on the Nationwide Tour."
Murray, however, also was keen to stress how philosophically the news had been taken by Clarke. "I talked to Darren late on Sunday," revealed Murray. "He was obviously very disappointed. He thought he had done enough to receive a wild card. But during what I think was our second bottle of wine, he showed why he is so well liked and respected by his fellow professionals. 'I had the same chance as everyone else to make the side and I came up short,' he said. 'I have only myself to blame'."
Last night, after his day on the River Test, Clarke repeated his “mea culpa” belief, although did reveal that the shock at his snub runs through Faldo’s squad. "Half of the guys have been in touch over the last day to say how disappointed they are for me, and to say how surprised they are that I won't be going with them," said Clarke. "I have to say I was quite surprised myself. But it is his choice and that's that. It is my own fault I didn't play myself into one of the automatic slots. I shouldn't have had to rely on a pick"
Clarke’s response has been faultless and not everyone is anti-Faldo with at least one former Ryder Cup hero willing to back the captain's choices. As Brian Barnes defeated Jack Nicklaus twice in one day in the 1975 match his view should be respected. "Sentimentality does not come into it as far as Nick is concerned, he wants a team that is going to win," the 63-year-old said. "Nick has decided that the one thing he wanted to do was bring more younger blood in instead of relying very much on the veterans once again."
Meanwhile, Azinger, the US captain, announces his wild cards in New York today. When overhauling the selection policy in the attempt to put a stop to the American humblings – which has seen them lose five of the last six matches – Azinger insisted on having four picks. Yet the dearth of options available to him suggest he would have been better off with two. Steve Stricker is a certainty, but then comes a list containing the likes of Rocco Mediate, Woody Austin, D J Trahan and Hunter Mahan. Perhaps Clarke would be better off with a US passport