Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke buoyed by European showing at Masters
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke has hailed the "wonderful" performance of Europe's top players at the Masters.
With champion Danny Willett one of seven Europeans in the top 15 at Augusta, Clarke said the final leaderboard had delivered a real positive ahead of the much-anticipated showdown with the USA in the autumn.
Clarke also spent time with golf fan Sir Alex Ferguson at Augusta and said he intended to visit him again in England to pick the former Manchester United manager's brain.
The former Open champion, who missed the cut in Georgia, was at his home club at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland on Tuesday to launch the start of a Ryder Cup trophy tour.
"It was a wonderful week from a European perspective," Clarke said of the Masters.
"With the winner Danny Willett and indeed Lee Westwood playing a lot better and Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick, there were so many Europeans up there in the top 10.
"So it was a very positive week for the Europeans."
Willett's victory was the first major of the Yorkshireman's career, but Clarke said it came as no surprise to him.
"He's been playing really well now for a couple of years, I am a good friend of his, I've spent a lot of time with him and his game has just been getting better and better," said Europe's Ryder Cup captain.
"It's certainly no surprise whatsoever. He's performed really well, especially of late again, and from a personal point of view I was delighted to see him win."
Clarke, 47, said it was also great to see his close friend Westwood - who finished joint second at Augusta - contending in a major again.
"To see him playing in the manner and fashion that I know he can is certainly very, very heartening," he said.
With so many up and coming stars emerging, Europe's team is predicted to have quite a few fresh faces as they look to win the Ryder Cup for a fourth successive time.
Clarke insisted there was a long way to go in qualifying, though.
"It's a long way off before the team is finalised, a lot of big tournaments, a lot of Ryder Cup points to be played for," he said.
"While the make-up of the team at the moment may look slightly different to what we are used to, come the end of August I think it might be a little bit different."
Liverpool fan Clarke said Ferguson had given him "lots of advice" at Augusta.
"There would be very few people who have had as successful a career as he has had," he said.
"He was very, very helpful. I will go over and spend a bit more time with him shortly over in Manchester - he was more than willing to help me.
"As a Liverpool fan it was quite difficult, but you know the man is a legend."
The trophy tour will see the iconic prize travelling around Europe and the US ahead of September's encounter. Its next stop will be Belfast City Hall on Wednesday.
"To have the Ryder Cup trophy tour start off here in Northern Ireland is very, very special," said Clarke.
"To have it here at Royal Portrush, I only live up on the hill up there, so it's wonderful to start off here."
The 2016 Ryder Cup is being held at Hazeltine in the United States and takes place from September 30 to October 2.