Olazabal given two weeks to decide on Ryder captaincy
Jose Maria Olazabal has been given two weeks to decide whether or not he wants to be Europe's next Ryder Cup captain. It was revealed here last night that Nick Faldo's successor will be announced at the Dubai Desert Classic, which takes place in the adjoining United Arab Emirates state at the end of the month.
The Spaniard remains the overwhelming favourite to take the reins at Celtic Manor next year despite the surprising news last night.
It had been understood that the committee – which comprises 15 current and former European Tour professionals – would give Olazabal at least until May to make his choice and to see whether he could recover sufficiently from a long spell on the sidelines with injury and illness to challenge for a playing spot in Newport. But after a lively meeting, which lasted well over three hours, Thomas Bjorn, the committee chairman, said that the panel had agreed on the necessity for a quick resolution to the debate buzzing around the range at the Abu Dhabi Championships, the year-opener which begins here tomorrow.
"We felt it was important that the decision was made sooner rather than later," said the Dane, who once again ruled himself out . "To hang on for another three months was a little too long and would just add to the speculation. Also, the captain needs to start preparing."
Where this leaves the candidacy of Sandy Lyle is unclear, although George O'Grady, the European Tour chief executive, did declare "that there is a strong list of candidates".
As well as the veteran Scot, Ian Woosnam, the 2006 captain, is believed to be a runner, as is another Spaniard in Miguel Angel Jimenez, as well as the Irishman Paul McGinley and maybe even Darren Clarke. The Ulsterman was one of three committee members who missed this meeting, but like Olazabal he plays in next week's Qatar Masters and was labelled by O'Grady as a "contender". Colin Montgomerie has unashamedly pencilled himself in for the 2014 match at Gleneagles and had been a vocal supporter of Lyle in the run-up to last night, saying it would be a great shame if the double-major winner was not afforded the same honour as his fellow European heroes of the Eighties – Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Woosnam. At one stage, he left the meeting for 25 minutes.
O'Grady later claimed that the discussions had been "statesmanlike", yet the redness of some of the faces leaving the meeting room at the exclusive Emirates Palace hotel hinted that they had also been heated. O'Grady confessed that one of the matters up for discussion was whether the captaincy should be merely handed around to former champions like some sort of reward.
"There was some of that," he said. "In the end they were unanimous that they wanted the best man for the job." Certainly there exists little doubt within the playing ranks about Olazabal's suitability to the role. The 42-year-old impressed the European side during the defeat in Kentucky last year, particularly with his inspirational team talks.
Ready to go, if Olly says no
The sentimental vote: the only member of Europe's famous big five yet to have been given the role. But does Sandy know the current team well enough and does he have the tactical acumen?
Captaincy hopes: 5/10
The Welsh vote: it is doubtful that the host nation will have a representative on the team and the wee man was a popular winning captain in 2006. But are the days gone of the repeat leader?
Captaincy hopes: 6/10
The wise vote: there's a growing whisper for the intelligent Dubliner, who would have the respect of the whole team. But like Olazabal, will his own playing ambitions be an obstacle?
Captaincy hopes: 5/10