THURSDAY POLL: Europe turn to Clarke to extend sequence

Darren Clarke has been appointed Europe's captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup against the United States.
Darren Clarke has been appointed Europe's captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup against the United States.
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Darren Clarke will lead Europe’s bid for a fourth successive Ryder Cup victory after being named captain for the 2016 contest with the United States at Hazeltine on Wednesday.

The 46-year-old Northern Irishman, who played in five Ryder Cups and was a vice-captain in 2010 and 2012, was chosen ahead of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn by a five-man selection panel at Wentworth.

Clarke said: “I am naturally extremely proud to be selected as European Ryder Cup captain for 2016. The Ryder Cup has been a massive part of my life and my career, so to have the chance to lead Europe next year is a huge honour.

“I am lucky to have played and worked under some fantastic captains in my seven Ryder Cups to date and I look forward to the challenge of trying to follow in their footsteps and help Europe to a fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory at Hazeltine next year.”

The selection panel consisted of the three most recent captains – Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie – along with European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and players’ representative David Howell.

McGinley and Clarke’s relationship has been severely strained since Clarke put himself forward for the 2014 captaincy, having previously sent McGinley a letter supporting the Dubliner’s candidacy.

And when Tom Watson was named US captain in December 2012, Clarke suggested 2010 captain Montgomerie should also be considered as “whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence”.

With the support of star players such as Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter it was McGinley who eventually won the day, and he insisted after leading Europe to victory at Gleneagles last year that he would not let personal feelings affect his view on his successor.

Clarke has also stated he would be “foolish” not to immediately seek McGinley’s advice if given the daunting job of following in his footsteps.

The last of Clarke’s five appearances as a player was an emotionally-charged occasion at the K Club in 2006, when he somehow won all three of his matches just weeks after the death of his first wife Heather from cancer.

Clarke and long-time friend Lee Westwood played the final fourball match of the first session against Phil Mickelson and Chris Di Marco, with Clarke hitting his opening drive more than 300 yards down the fairway and then holing from 12 feet for birdie.

After failing to qualify for the next two contests, Clarke was a surprise winner of the Open Championship at Royal St George’s in 2011, but has failed to record a single top-10 finish on the European Tour since.

In contrast, Jimenez and Bjorn have remained competitive, with Bjorn making his third appearance as a player at Gleneagles and 51-year-old Jimenez extending his record as the Tour’s oldest winner with victory in the Spanish Open last year.

Montgomerie said the decision to appoint Clarke had been unanimous, adding: “We had three very able candidates and a unanimous decision, which was a delight for the panel.

“We spoke to Darren and we wish him well to retain the trophy. It’s an unenviable task; America want it back badly and he will have all our support.

“They do want revenge, they set up their task force and had their own internal wranglings about what they can do to win it back.

“We have selected a captain that I am convinced will retain the Ryder Cup and bring it home.

“I think he will be a very good communicator with the players individually, which is most important as a captain. He has the respect of the players.”

O’Grady, speaking on behalf of the panel, said: “We are delighted to announce that Darren has accepted the invitation from the panel to captain Europe at The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National.

“Darren has an impressive Ryder Cup pedigree, so he has a strong understanding of the attributes required to be a successful captain.

“He is also a popular figure among the players and has both the passion and knowledge to lead Europe in the quest for a record fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory.”

The US captain is due to be officially named next week, although it has been widely reported that former captain Davis Love has been handed the chance for redemption after being on the wrong end of the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012.