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Players leap to Faldo's defence after Azinger attack

Aspiring members of Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup team leapt to the Europe captain's defence yesterday following criticism from his American counterpart Paul Azinger. Five months before the tournament in Louisville, Azinger claimed that players want nothing to do with Faldo, saying, "He did what he did as a player, and there are relational consequences."

Darren Clarke, however, said Faldo will make a "sensational" captain, while Paul McGinley, who resigned as an assistant captain last September, said he is "100 per cent" behind Faldo. Clarke, a member of the last five Ryder Cup sides and the hero two years ago when he won all his three games a few weeks after the death of his wife, said: "Nick kept himself to himself. He's always been like that. He was a very focused individual when he played. But it won't affect how people play for him. He's a six-time major champion – the best player we've ever had. Whether people like him or loathe him – and it's pretty obvious you have people in both camps – you cannot disrespect at any stage what he has done in the game."

Clarke and McGinley are both members of the European Tour players' committee which recommended Faldo for the captaincy. Another, Barry Lane, said: "Azinger is really stirring it up. Nick never really endeared himself, because he was absolutely focused on his game and his life. But what he achieved was phenomenal, and personality should not come into it."

Meanwhile, the American Johnson Wagner won the Houston Open by two strokes after a final-round 71 on Sunday to earn a place in the Masters. However, Davis Love III, who played in 70 successive majors, closed with 73 for a five-under 283 and did not qualify for Augusta.