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McGinley will be a fantastic skipper: Darren Clarke

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke will be whispering into a Sky Sports microphone rather than the ear of a European player at the Ryder Cup, but whether his absence from the European inner sanctum at Gleneagles is a sign that he's lost impetus in the race to succeed Paul McGinley as captain in Hazeltine in 2016 remains to be seen.

It is an open secret that there is no love lost between McGinley and Clarke following the fraught behind-the-scenes politicking for the 2014 job – described by Des Smyth at the time as utterly failing "the smell test".

European Tour chief executive George O'Grady described the goings-on in the winter of 2012 as "unseemly" and the upshot is that the selection process has now been changed.

Rather than a vote of the Tour Players Committee, the 2016 skipper will be decided by the three immediate past captains – Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and McGinley – the chief executive and the chairman of the Players Committee, who is currently Thomas Bjorn.

The days of the captaincy being seen as a reward for a great career died at Valhalla in 2008 with Nick Faldo's ill-fated campaign, and a new era of player power was ushered in two years ago when Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and others backed McGinley as the "best man for the job."

Clarke may well be that man but he has rivals that include Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Padraig Harrington, who are all in McGinley's support network in Scotland.

The Dungannon native, 46, bristles at the suggestion that he somehow tried to undermine McGinley's candidacy by suggesting that Europe might need a man of major stature to stand up to Tom Watson.

That he did it at a time when Colin Montgomerie's name was widely mentioned did not go unnoticed but he's certainly rowing in behind his former stablemate now. "I have no issue with Paul whatsoever," Clarke says. "Paul is very statistically minded. He'll know every player's strength and the area of the game where they're maybe not quite so strong.

"He will leave no stone unturned, he will be a fantastic captain. He's got the respect of all the players. And when he gets them all together for the first team meeting, he'll put everybody at ease. I'm sure Paul will do everything brilliantly well."

Clarke is immensely popular in the United States and his emotionally-charged performance at The K Club in 2006, just weeks after the death of his first wife Heather, is regarded as one of the greatest Ryder Cup performances of all time.

Naturally for a player who has featured in five Ryder Cups, he would jump at the chance to be captain, with America in 2016 rather than Paris in 2018 looking the better fit.

"Yeah, well, if they were to offer me the job I would certainly not be picky as to when it would be. It would be too big an honour to differentiate between doing it in America or doing it in Europe," he says. "Wherever, I just hope at some stage that they do ask me to have the ultimate honour and be Ryder Cup captain."

As for this weekend, Clarke believes it is going to be "very, very close" with Europe favourites and "rightly so."

For Clarke, McIlroy has the stature to be Europe's key player and ready to step into the leader's role.

"He's Tiger-esque, anybody would want him on their team."

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