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Darren Clarke to pick Alex Ferguson's brain for Ryder Cup bid

By Kevin Garside

Darren Clarke tees up today at what is likely to be his final Masters. His five-year exemption, gained when he won the Open in 2011, expires this weekend.

His passing out ceremony coincides with the debut at Augusta of one Sir Alex Ferguson, a guest of Clarke's management team.

The appearance of Sir Alex presents both opportunity and problem for Ulsterman Clarke, a devout follower of Liverpool.

Given the proximity of the Ryder Cup duel at Hazeltine in September and Ferguson's connection to the European team since his pre-match talk at Gleneagles in 2014, Clarke accepts he might have to set aside tribal leanings and seek rapprochement.

"I'd be stupid not to, wouldn't I? Even though I'm a Liverpool fan, he's a legend in terms of man-management. I'd be foolish not to," said Europe's Ryder Cup captain.

It is a curious feature in this period of European Ryder Cup hegemony that no one from this side of the pond has won at Augusta this century.

As well as tipping Clarke the wink, perhaps Ferguson might work his magic in this domain and re-ignite the late 20th century zeitgeist that saw European golfers claim 11 victories in 19 years, bookended by Seve Ballesteros' breakthrough in 1980 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.

"There's no reason for it," Clarke said. "We have some of the best players in the world and you'd think when we had that period when (Nick) Faldo was winning, (Ian Woosnam) Woosie, (Sandy) Lyle, Olly, (Bernhard) Langer, we couldn't stop and I don't know what happened.

"There's no real reason. I'd love a European to win, but that's as a European, not really because of the Ryder Cup. I want to see them playing well every week. All I keep hearing is how strong the Americans are and they are, but we have world class players on the European Tour."

One of whom is Rory McIlroy, among the favourites here this week and a key figure in Clarke's thinking as he plans his strategy for September. "I had a really good chat with him, we spoke about the Ryder Cup but a number of different things, including this week," Clarke said.

"He's happy with where his game's at."

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