Olazabal closes on Ryder captaincy as his last few rivals give their blessing
Jose Maria Olazabal could be appointed as Colin Montgomerie's successor as early as next week. A European Tour source has revealed the Tournament Players Committee will discuss who will lead the defence of the Ryder Cup in Chicago at a meeting in Portugal on Tuesday – and such is the support for the Spaniard the position of Europe captain will be his to accept or decline.
The path seems set for a quick announcement, as Olazabal yesterday declared: "I would love the role." But before his backers – who include Montgomerie – become too excited it is understood he might not be ready to make a commitment yet because of his ongoing fight with rheumatoid arthritis. If this is the case, then the committee will give him until the start of next year to decide.
Olazabal found himself the target of a barrage of persuasion at the celebration party on Monday night, held at Celtic Manor a few hours after Europe had regained the trophy in an excruciatingly tense finale.
"It was mentioned by the players and by Monty, but there is just one issue and that is my health," said Olazabal. "I would love to do it, but you have to fulfil certain things. For instance, I think you need to be close to the players and play with them during the qualifying process and that's why it is the only question mark. But if I do think my health is OK there'll be one answer – yes"
Even though Olazabal has played only one competitive event in the last year, Montgomerie is of the opinion that the affirmation should come sooner rather than later. He co-opted Olazabal into the team room as his fifth vice-captain after the first day of the extended match and was impressed by his contribution in the gripping one-point victory. "Jose Maria did brilliantly as one of my assistants and I think now is his time," said the Scot yesterday. "He is 45 and it seems to be a young man's game. He will do as good if not a better job than I did."
That appeared to be the unanimous consensus as the players left the Gwent resort. "He is the choice of all the players," said Padraig Harrington. And even the two men who would be considered Olazabal's main rivals for the post, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke, expressed their wish to see the dual major winner installed. There is also a political angle to the Olly clamour as Europe have not had a continental captain since Bernhard Langer in 2004 and there has been unrest about this fact on the Tour.
Olazabal was even asked about the captaincy subject by the overwhelming favourite to take over the American team. Davis Love said: "Yeah, I did, but we ended up talking about how much we wanted to be play." If Love, 46, decides to try to qualify for one last time then the focus will turn to the Presidents Cup captain, Fred Couples, and Justin Leonard. Whoever takes over will have an imbalance to redress. "This will sting," said Love.
There were plenty of heads stinging as the teams dispersed yesterday. The Americans boarded an early flight from Cardiff, while the Europeans left in dribs and, decidedly, drabs. Nine of the team are playing in the Dunhill Links Championship, which tees off tomorrow, and were having to travel up to Fife in time for today's practice rounds. Montgomerie, himself, is playing in the pro-am event and was planning to use the seven-hour drive back home to Perthshire with his wife, Gaynor, "to reflect". "We will turn off the radio, turn off the phones and just talk about it," he said. "By the time I get home I will be a lot better and able to put the whole thing into some sort of perspective."
As he was first in his bed at midnight, Montgomerie was able to philosophise more intensely than his men, many of whom did not return to their rooms until daybreak. Apart from the obligatory big-money ping-pong games between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the highlight of the night was apparently when Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell got up on stage to sing Tom Jones numbers. Montgomerie was tucked up by then, but could tell the way things were going.
"I left the trophy with Lee Westwood, who was on stage singing with it," he said. "That was the last I saw of it until this morning when it came down polished and unfingerprinted and unbashed."
The raucous night after is now a Ryder Cup tradition as are the statements of big intentions from the main players. While McDowell, the man who earned the point which gave Europe their sixth win in eight matches, is the favourite to win the British Sports Personality of the Year – having also won the US Open – others like Poulter are looking to the year's end to work out how to transfer the intensity he showed at Celtic Manor from the team environment to the individual workplace.
"I have tried to recreate the Ryder Cup scenario every damn single week," he said. " I can't do it. I need the 30,000 people cheering me on. Not many people have been able to do it. That's why I need to take a month off. My body is empty – I have nothing left. This week takes it out of you. Every single time. It takes weeks to get over it."
Westwood will try to do it in a few days as he eyes the win at the Dunhill which would hand him the world No 1 tag. "I want to be No 1 in Tiger's era, while he's still a great player," said the Englishman. "I'm 37 and know I've got to do it soon."
The other candidates
Popular Ulsterman is big in America and commands respect in the European team room. His laid-back demeanour sat well with the players at Celtic Manor and it would be a huge surprise if he is not captain one day.
The Dubliner is a real thinker, who has his own ideas about captaincy. Colin Montgomerie relied heavily on his intelligence in Newport and he does have huge support at grass-roots level.
Miguel Angel Jimenez
The Spaniard emerged as one of the main characters at Celtic Manor and would be the obvious continental candidate if Jose Maria Olazabal pulled out. The team room would not be short of cigars. Or rioja.
The morning after: What the Ryder stars tweeted
Why do you wake up early when you've had way too much alcohol the night before, yes I have a sore head but its well worth the celebration.
Can I just say one thing.......wow!!!!!
What a week!! Think I'm still drunk! Jaegerbombs out of the Ryder Cup! Great banter with euros and Americans last night!
@PaulAzinger - Thanks Zinger it's was a special 1 for sure. I love it like u do. & yes it will be polished & no your not having it back.
I had to tweet live from the closing ceremony yesterday it needed to be shared with the world, people will understand
Tiger and phil were beating everyone at table tennis last night!
In the team room last night singing we are the champions. The party was fully under way.
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