Europe's finest await Ryder Cup verdict - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Europe's finest await Ryder Cup verdict

As Middle Eastern summits go, there should be a resolution to suit everybody. Or, maybe not. Today in Dubai, the Tournament Committee of the European Tour will select the next European Ryder Cup captain. Assuming deadlock is avoided, the man to defend the cup against the Americans at the K Club in Ireland next year will be announced tomorrow.

As Middle Eastern summits go, there should be a resolution to suit everybody. Or, maybe not. Today in Dubai, the Tournament Committee of the European Tour will select the next European Ryder Cup captain. Assuming deadlock is avoided, the man to defend the cup against the Americans at the K Club in Ireland next year will be announced tomorrow.

That name will be Ian Woosnam. Or Nick Faldo. It may be that whoever misses out is put in the frame for the match in the States in 2008. There has even been a suggestion that the next four captains could be earmarked: Woosie and Faldo followed by Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal. If we are getting ahead of ourselves it is only because of an embarrassment of riches.

In part this is due to the freakishly brilliant generation of Europeans born in the late 1950s. It is also a consequence of Europe holding the Ryder Cup on seven of the last 10 occasions. This run of success has produced men for whom the Ryder Cup means as much as the major championships and who have played so often they know all the ins and outs. America cannot say the same.

While Tom Lehman was handed the US captaincy for 2006 by officialdom, it is the players who will select Europe's leader. There are 14 of them on the Tournament Committee, which is chaired by Jamie Spence and includes Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bernhard Langer.

Woosnam, the Masters champion in 1991, played in eight Ryder Cups, was an assistant to Mark James in 1999 and Sam Torrance's vice-captain in 2002. Ever since, Torrance has highly recommended the Welshman for the top job, words which could prove influential.

Faldo, however, is a six-time major champion, an 11-time Ryder Cup player who holds the record for the most points won in the competition. "All the players on the team would respect him," Lee Westwood said. "That is not to say they wouldn't respect Ian, just that I think they would respect Nick more."

But Westwood also indicated he thought it was Woosnam who had more backing on the Tournament Committee. "I'm not going to choose one over another, because I think they're both great guys," said Ian Poulter. "I would say I think Woosnam would probably get it. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on Woosnam."

There is no doubt that Woosnam, who is 47 tomorrow, is more popular with fellow players of the same generation. Faldo always was a loner on his trudge to the top of the game. But his reputation is different with the younger players for whom he was a hero.

"I know Faldo a little better," said Luke Donald. "I have no real interaction with Woosnam, so on a personal level, perhaps Faldo would be a better choice for me but obviously it's whatever is best for the team."

When Mark James was chairman of the Tournament Committee the chances of Faldo becoming Ryder Cup captain appeared small. The two have had more than the odd undignified barney over the years, including James's binning of Faldo's good luck note in 1999.

But now James, who is no longer on the Tournament Committee, has had a change of heart. "I think Woosie is the best candidate for the next Ryder Cup and probably Nick for the next one," James said. "We need a more emotive person to connect with the home crowd. That is more of an asset for a home Ryder Cup and I think a more detached, clinical mindset is better over there."

It also describes Torrance in 2002 and Langer last year. There is also the problem of the 2008 match coming after both Woosnam and Faldo have passed 50. They will then be eligible for the Seniors Tour. This could be a problem for the Welshman, who, like Torrance, will get his insight into the players from playing alongside them and spending time with them off the course.

But there are different approaches to the captaincy, just as there are to playing. Langer was hardly on the European Tour last summer, either injured or playing in the States. But he watched hundreds of hours of golf on television and pored over pages and pages of statistics. Faldo has shown similar attention to detail, whether playing, designing courses or as a pundit on American television.

While announcing more than one captain at once would be unwise, consolations could be hinted at: Faldo for 2008, while for Woosnam there would remain the romantic thought of home soil at Celtic Manor in 2010.

* Max Faulkner, the former British Open champion and five-time Ryder Cup player, has died, aged 88. Faulkner won the British Open in 1951 and was on the British Ryder Cup team which won the title in 1957.

Contest for the Captaincy Woosnam and Faldo's Ryder Cup records

Ian Woosnam

Ryder Cup appearances: Eight

Ryder Cup records held: Most four-ball matches won (10).

Ryder Cup history: P31 - W14 - L12 - H5

Majors won: One

Nick Faldo

Ryder Cup appearances: 11

Ryder Cup records held: Appearances (11); Matches played (46); Matches won (23); Joint most singles won (six); Joint most foursomes won (10).

Ryder Cup history: P46 - W23 - L19 - H4

Majors won: Six

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