Clarke given Ryder Cup wild-card despite tragedy

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It might have been as badly a kept secret as the black hair dye which now conceals Ian Woosnam's grey bits, but when the European captain revealed his wild-cards here last night there was still a discernible gasp. And it was not necessarily the selection of Lee Westwood over Thomas Bjorn drawing it or indeed that the Ryder Cup captain had not come to that decision until an hour before the announcement.

For Darren Clarke's really is an incredible story; one full of emotion, spirit, and it must be said trepidation. Three weeks ago he watched his wife, Heather, die after a long fight with cancer and now, after helping his two young sons come to terms with their loss, he will appear in the most intensely competitive arena in golf after being named as the second wild-card. The concerns are obvious and Woosnam was ready to answer them.

"Believe it, Darren is well up for this and well up to it, too," the Welshman said before revealing that he talked at length to Clarke last Thursday and informed him then that he was in.

"I don't see this as a risk at all. Darren's been playing plenty of golf at home, will play in Madrid the week before the Ryder Cup and will be ready. Heather would have loved him to play at the K Club and that's why Darren is doing it. It will be an emotional time for him but we will be like one big family to him and I'm sure he will be fine."

A source in the Clarke camp admitted that originally he had intended to return the week after the biennial tear-up but then became increasingly confident this was right for him.

In a statement last night he outlined his certainty. "I would not even have considered making myself available unless I felt I could contribute to the cause," the 37-year-old said. "It's going to be a magnificent week and I would not have wanted to miss it ... and neither would my lovely wife, Heather."

The news was being welcomed throughout the golfing world last night, from the American captain Tom Lehman to the finest player - and, of course, opponent - in the world. Tiger Woods is a great friend of the Ulsterman and publicly urged Woosnam to pick him.

Westwood will be just as chuffed as the world No 1, although last night he could be excused for fretting over his own inclusion. Having finished off his gutsy showing in the BMW International Open, shrugging off tonsillitis in the process, Westwood looked pretty sure of his berth, but then he got to the airport and waited, and waited, and waited for the call.

It never came and he took off in a private jet from Munich Airport fearing the worst. He had a nice voicemail message waiting for him when he touched down in England.

"It's a huge, huge relief," he said after a season during which he has often not resembled the real Lee Westwood. "I'm delighted Woosie's shown his faith in me and will do everything I can to repay it."

Of course, at the end of Ryder Cup selection day there are always a few hurt souls, but cruelly all the indignation was being borne on the slumped shoulders of Bjorn. In truth, nobody but the Dane could have been forgiven for believing they had a squeak against Westwood.

"Devastated doesn't even close," he growled. Woosnam all but confessed that it had been a straight fight between the Dane and Westwood and that "it had been the hardest decision in my life".

That was likely to be little consolation to Bjorn, though, who earlier had summed up what an awful week he had. "Half the people you come across tell you you have no chance and the other half say you should be picked," he said. "Who knows? Does Woosie even know?" At that stage he did not and he admitted that he had taken his decision-time so close to the wire that he had not even had time to phone him yet. No, Woosnam was not looking forward to it.

And neither should he have been. When it is considered that Bjorn has a better world ranking, a better Order of Merit placing and even a better Ryder Cup record, it is easy to understand why he might be disappointed.

But as Woosnam said: "Lee's last performance in the Ryder Cup speaks for itself. He won four-and-a-half points of five. He has also won twice around the K Club. That persuaded me to go for Lee."

Woosnam did not say it, but the fact that Bjorn shot an 86 around the Palmer Course last year, when leading the European Open in the final round, might also have been of significance.

But not all of Scandinavia was in the doldrums. There was a golf tournament going on as well here and when Henrik Stenson sent a five-iron to four feet on the first sudden-death hole to seal a three-man play-off with an eagle it was given an ending worthy of centre stage. Woosnam would have been an enthralled viewer himself.

For not only was it a Ryder Cup fillip to see the Swede put months of mediocrity behind him with his first title since February - and also signal his ability to handle the heat of the cauldron - but the fact that Padraig Harrington was alongside Stenson and Retief Goosen in the shoot-out was also a boost.

True, the Irishman has still not prevailed this season, but even at his best Harrington was the perennial bridesmaid and these past few days he was very close to his best, with a 64 and a 69 to reach the 15-under mark.

So, too, was David Howell - despite the missed three-footer on the last that would have taken him into the play-off - and Colin Montgomerie only two off the pace. A joyous day for Woosnam, then. And blessedly the first one in an awful long time for Clarke.

Woosnam's warriors: The European Ryder Cup team

* LUKE DONALD (England)
Age 28
World ranking 10; Caps 1; Ryder Cup record W2 H1 L1.
Guaranteed his position by matching Tiger Woods for 54 holes. May exact for the last 18.

* SERGIO GARCIA (Spain)
Age 26; World ranking 8; Caps 3; Ryder Cup record W10 H2 L3.
Has blown hot and cold this year. Putting remains his Achilles' heel, although Ryder Cup seems to transform him.

* HENRIK STENSON (Sweden)
Age 30; World ranking: 1; Caps: Rookie.
Big-hitter with a big reputation whose birdie-making prowess makes him an absolute must for the fourballs. Returned to form spectacularly yesterday.

* DAVID HOWELL (England)
Age 31; World Ranking 10; Caps 1; Ryder Cup record W1 L1.
Beating Woods in China last year confirmed him as a world-class performer. Even better than he was on his debut two years ago.

* COLIN MONTGOMERIE (Scotland)
Age 43; World ranking 15; Caps 7; Ryder Cup record W19 H5 L8.
Four points would give him the all-time Ryder Cup points-scoring record. Wasted finest chance to win a major at US Open.

* PAUL CASEY (England)
Age 29; World Ranking 28; Caps 1; Ryder Cup record W1 L1.
Continues to fulfil giddying potential and still full of the bravado which led him to asking to play Tiger in 2004.

* PADRAIG HARRINGTON
(Ireland)
Age 35; World ranking 18; Caps 3; Ryder Cup record W7 H1 L4.
His season will have all the emotional ballast it needs on home soil. Without doubt, a central performer.

* ROBERT KARLSSON
(Sweden)
Age 37; World ranking 42;
Caps Rookie.
Cruelly missed out in 1999, this 6ft 5in blond bomber is like Stenson in being ideal for the fourballs. Can look down on anyone on his day.

* PAUL McGINLEY (Ireland)
Age 39; World ranking 44; Caps 2; Ryder Cup record W2 H3 L1.
Woefully out of form, but now qualifying shackles have been thrown off may race back into it. Will skip into an Irish dreamland.

* JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL (Spain)
Age 40; World ranking 16; Caps 6; Ryder Cup record W15 H5 L8.
First showing since 1999 and will be welcomed with open arms. Brilliant short game and one of Europe's main dangermen.

* DARREN CLARKE (N Ireland)
Age 38; World ranking 22; Caps 4; Ryder Cup record W7 H3 L7.
Will have to conquer emotions, after losing wife to cancer, as well as opponents. So talented he will probably accomplish both.

* LEE WESTWOOD (England)
Age 33; World ranking 47; Caps 4; Ryder Cup record W11 H1 L8.
Has endured a season in which he has missed seven straight cuts. Westwood is blessedly resembling his old self now.

* THOMAS BJORN (Denmark)
Age: 35. World ranking: 35.
Caps: 2 . Ryder Cup record: W3 H1 L2
Shot an 86 on the Palmer Course last year when leading the European Open, but has recovered from his famed 'demons' to win the Irish Open this year. Popular in the team room.

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