| 12.4°C Belfast

Clarke 'won't duck tough decisions'


Darren Clarke will lead Europe's bid for a fourth straight Ryder Cup victory in 2016

Darren Clarke will lead Europe's bid for a fourth straight Ryder Cup victory in 2016

Darren Clarke will lead Europe's bid for a fourth straight Ryder Cup victory in 2016

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke admits there is a danger he will be "too close" to the players on his team at Hazeltine, but insists he will not shy away from making tough decisions.

The backing of players such as Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter was vital in Clarke being handed the 2016 captaincy ahead of Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

And while McIlroy would appear a certainty to make the team and again play in all five sessions, Clarke could face some tough decisions when it comes to his wild cards and pairings.

McDowell narrowly held on to the last automatic qualifying place in 2014 while Westwood and Poulter needed wild cards, and Clarke hinted he would be more likely to reduce his wild cards from three to two rather than increase them.

"Different captains have different styles," said Clarke, who partnered Westwood eight times in the Ryder Cup. "Some have their arms around the players, others are more distant. I'd like to think I'm somewhere in the middle ground.

"I'm still playing and very friendly with possible members of the team. I'm close to the players, maybe too close. I'll be very player-friendly.

"Don't get me wrong, I won't shirk my responsibilities of making tough decisions. I will not shirk at all. I will do that (leave players out) when I have to. That's the way it is. I think the players nowadays realise that. There's very few players nowadays who play five matches now.

"So everybody understands that if you leave someone out it is for the benefit of the team. People look at how successful Europe have been of late, that goes a long way down to the captain managing the players and the players willingness, albeit disappointed, to accept the captain's decision."

Clarke expects the core of the Gleneagles team to be pushing for places in the side for Hazeltine, when Europe will be seeking an unprecedented fourth straight victory.

And although he would favour experience in his wild cards due to being away from home, the 46-year-old can give any rookies the benefit of his experience of five contests as a player and two as vice-captain.

"If there are new players in the team I'll be able to help them because I've been there myself and know what it is like," Clarke said. "It's hard and I will always remember Sam Torrance saying to me once: 'Playing in the Ryder Cup is like having your first child; until you have that you won't understand what it's all about'.

"I'm fortunate to be able to say that I've come down the stretch leading a major and managing to win it. But I'd still say that the pressure of a Ryder Cup is greater than that - that's what I found."

Clarke will be under pressure at Hazeltine to match the universally-praised leadership of predecessor Paul McGinley, who was part of the selection panel which unanimously opted for Clarke despite the pair falling out over the captaincy battle for 2014.

But the former Open champion believes the opposition, led by 2012 captain Davis Love, will be under far greater pressure having lost six of the last seven and then forming a task force to examine their entire approach to the contest.

"The US are on home soil, they are desperate to win it back again," Clarke said. "Yes we are going for a record win but the Americans are professional golfers, they have pride, they want to win. You've got guys like Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth. You can see the kinds coming in and they will do whatever. They'll want to do it for Davis too."

Love was captain at Medinah in 2012 when his side squandered a 10-4 lead, with Tiger Woods being left out of a session for the first time in his career and contributing just half a point from four matches.

Woods also ruled himself out of contention for a wild card in 2014 after an injury-plagued season but Clarke would like to see his friend back in the side in Minnesota.

"I've seen Tiger at his absolute best and it would be great to see him get back to his best again, or somewhere near, because any event with Tiger in it is that little bit more special," Clarke said.

"With some of the scores he's had (a career-worst 82 in Phoenix), it's not the Tiger we know. But I don't think we should be too hasty to write him off because he's gone through so many swing changes in the past and managed to prove people wrong.

" He's one of the best players that's ever played the game and we tend to forget that a bit too quickly. Due to Rory coming along and Jordan Spieth playing so well, people are saying 'Tiger's done, he's finished' but I wouldn't be quite as quick to write him off as he's a special man.

"You can't be as good as he was then lose it all."