Paul McGinley last night thanked Rory McIlroy for the part he played in him becoming Europe’s new Ryder Cup captain, and joked: “If Rory does not make the team I think he has got a good chance of a pick now.”
McGinley got the nod at yesterday’s European Tour tournament committee meeting in Abu Dhabi, the Dubliner seeing off four other candidates – Scottish trio Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie and Sandy Lyle, and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez – to land the coveted position.
McGinley, a match-winning hero of Europe’s 2002 win and an assistant in the last two victories, was the unanimous choice of the committee on which he also sits, and is relishing the opportunity to pit his wits against United States captain Tom Watson next year.
“I’m obviously absolutely thrilled and delighted to have this honour,” said McGinley, who was asked to leave the room while his candidacy was put under the microscope by the committee yesterday.
“I’m relishing the thought of taking on one of my great heroes,” he added of Watson.
“I think he’s a wonderful person and a great ambassador for the game of golf.”
Watson was quick to offer his congratulations, describing McGinley as “a class act”.
“I anticipate that his passion and love of the event will transfer to being an outstanding leader of his team,” Watson said.
“Paul has been connected to winning European Ryder Cup teams and is an outstanding representative of European golf.
“I look forward to sharing the stage with him as we make our journey to Scotland.”
McGinley added: “It’s a humbling experience and it’s a week I’m really looking forward to. I knew I had the support of the players, not just Rory.”
The support of world No 1 McIlroy certainly helped McGinley’s cause.
Even after Watson was put in charge by the Americans for next year’s match at Gleneagles, McIlroy saw no need to deviate from his view that 46-year-old McGinley was the right man for the job, with some observers believing Montgomerie might be the smarter choice.
“I don’t mind it being a David and Goliath situation in terms of the captains. It’s won on the course, not on the stage,” said McIlroy, who turned up at McGinley’s press conference to congratulate him in person.
“I have a very strong opinion about this. I really think Paul deserves it.
“He has been a great player and a great personality for the European Tour over the years. I also played under him at the Seve Trophy in 2009 and I thought he did a great job.
“From all the captains I’ve played under, I think he was the best.”
Compatriot Padraig Harrington was also on hand to offer his congratulations as McGinley spoke about becoming the first Irishman to take on the captaincy in the history of the Ryder Cup – including when it was a Britain and Ireland side, rather than the whole of Europe.
Since Europe’s famous win on American soil in September, McGinley has maintained a dignified silence while the issue of who should succeed Jose Maria Olazabal was debated furiously.
“I watched with interest,” he added. “Like a yo-yo my chances seemed to go up and down.
“I felt the more I said the more my chances would lessen. I was very tempted to speak up, but my wife and friends told me to stay with dignity, don’t get involved and it will work in the long term. I believed it too.”
Darren Clarke had been viewed as McGinley’s main rival, but he decided to stand aside because he wants to concentrate on his playing career.
He is now the favourite to take charge of the European team in America in 2016.
McIlroy is expecting some sleepless nights in the Middle East this week.
His girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki is playing in the Australian Open and McIlroy was awake on Monday night as the former world No 1 women’s tennis player came through a tough first round match against German Sabine Lisicki.
Wozniacki’s next match will be against Croatian Donna Vekic tomorrow, the day McIlroy partners Tiger Woods in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.