Clarke named among Ryder Cup vice-captains
Darren Clarke was today unveiled as the 'third man' to help Europe try to win back the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales on October 1-3.
Captain Colin Montgomerie will have three assistants and while Ireland's Paul McGinley and Dane Thomas Bjorn were expected Clarke is a surprise announcement - not least because he was second in the Scottish Open two weeks ago and might yet force himself onto the team.
But the 41-year-old Ulsterman, hero of the 2006 victory only a month after his wife Heather died of breast cancer, has agreed to come on board.
He is almost certainly the replacement for Jose Maria Olazabal, whom Montgomerie wanted to be part of his team. The Spaniard, however, was luke-warm about the idea of repeating his role under Nick Faldo in the defeat at Valhalla two years ago.
Olazabal, though, remains favourite to be the captain in Chicago in 2012.
Montgomerie and Clarke were team-mates in five matches, winning four of them. Indeed Clarke's first game at Valderrama in 1997 was with the Scot as his fourball partner and they beat Fred Couples and Davis Love on the last.
Both were then overlooked for wild cards by Faldo, Clarke missing out despite winning a tournament the week before the side was named.
It was thought Montgomerie might go for a Welshman like Phillip Price because of where the match is, but instead he has increased the Irish presence.
Clarke's fellow Ulstermen Rory McIlroy and US Open champion Graeme McDowell are certain starters in the match and McGinley's fellow Dubliner Padraig Harrington is one of the favourites for a wild card as things stand, although he still has time to qualify automatically.
McGinley and Bjorn are the men with the Midas touch when it comes to the Ryder Cup. Both have been involved in three matches and Europe have never lost.
McGinley, 43, sank the winning putt on his debut eight years ago and then was part of the successful 2004 and 2006 teams.
Bjorn won his first cap in the 1997 victory at Valderrama, coming back from four down to halve his singles with then Open champion Justin Leonard.
He missed the defeat in Boston two years later, but played his part alongside McGinley at The Belfry in 2002 and in 2004 was one of Bernhard Langer's assistants as Europe won by by a record nine points in Detroit.
The 39-year-old became embroiled in a huge row with 2006 captain Ian Woosnam, however, after being overlooked for a wild card in favour of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.
"He has been the most pathetic captain I have ever seen," he said. "He came into the bar at the hotel on Sunday and gave me 20 seconds about Lee having won twice at The K Club. In a bar - that kind of sums everything up."
Bjorn was fined and apologised - and very soon afterwards was made chairman of the European Tour's players committee, the body which in January last year chose Montgomerie as Sir Nick Faldo's successor.
Montgomerie in turn asked McGinley and Bjorn if they would be the respective captains of the Britain and Ireland and Continental Europe teams in the Vivendi Trophy.
Once both were viewed to have done a decent job there - McGinley received huge praise from the likes of McIlroy and McDowell after their win - it looked a given that they would be part of the backroom team for Celtic Manor.
The only real thing that could have changed that was if they played themselves into contention.
McGinley had stood down as an assistant to Faldo for that reason, but has never looked like making it this time following knee surgery late last year.
Bjorn won the Portuguese Open last month, but was still way off the qualifying mark.
Even though Montgomerie has tripled the number of assistants Faldo felt were needed - his other main 'helpers' were his son Matthew and radio presenter DJ Spoony - opposite number Corey Pavin has gone for four.
Pavin will have beaten 2006 captain Tom Lehman, probable next captain Love, Jeff Sluman and Paul Goydos, the player who shot 59 on the US Tour at the John Deere Classic two weeks ago, alongside him.
His predecessor Paul Azinger decided on three and in a novel move put Dave Stockton, Ray Floyd (both former captains) and Olin Browne in charge of four players each so that they formed bonds.
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