Brian Viner: The Ryder Cup made McDowell man of the moment. But is he really man of the year?

The Last Word
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Hats off to whoever thought up the wording for the full-page advertisement placed on behalf of the tourism agency Visit Wales in several national newspapers, including this one, on Tuesday. "What a result!" declared the ad, ostensibly about the Ryder Cup. "Everyone got to spend an extra day in Wales."

It was neatly put, cleverly exploiting the widespread feeling that what had looked in the previous Friday's relentless rain like a singularly negative advert for Wales, and a horribly damp and muddy indictment of the decision to play the Ryder Cup there in the first week of October, had been overturned by one of the most exciting finishes of all time, which unexpectedly unfolded under an almost cloudless blue sky.

That same ad also made the most of how very small Wales is, certainly when compared with England. "Congratulations to the European Ryder Cup team from Wales. All 2,903,085 of us," it read. Well, I'd hate to rain on the Welsh parade – there was quite enough of that at Celtic Manor – but of the four countries that constitute Great Britain, one could argue that it was the one even smaller than Wales that had more reason to celebrate Europe's dramatic victory. After all, there were no Welshmen in the team, but two Northern Irishmen, out of a population of less than 1.8m. And there are now three men of Ulster in the betting to be BBC Sports Personality of the Year, including the first and second favourites, Graeme McDowell at 15-8 and 2-1 shot Tony McCoy. In fact they're both from County Antrim (pop 616, 384). Young Rory McIlroy, from County Down, is a distant 50-1.

I sometimes wonder whether we don't all get a little over-excited about the anointment of a sports "personality" of the year. After all, how is it really possible to measure the exploits of a golfer against those of a jockey? But the sheer venerability of the award lends it unarguable significance, and it's one way of telling whose deeds have most captured the public imagination.

So, will it be McDowell or McCoy, or will third-favourite Jessica Ennis overtake both of them on the last bend? It's unlikely this late in the year that anyone else is going to emerge as a front-runner. Lewis Hamilton could still win the Formula One drivers' championship, as could Jenson Button, but the odds are against them, and the Ashes will barely be underway when the BBC's annual hooley takes place. And surely the voting public won't be daft enough to give it to David Haye? So for the sake of argument, let's assume that it will be between the men they call G-Mac and AP. Which of them deserves it more?

First, let me say that I was standing not 20 yards from McDowell when he smacked his drive down the 16th fairway at Celtic Manor on Monday afternoon. That tee shot, his brilliant second, and then his putt, amounted to the finest three consecutive golf shots I have ever seen, considering the momentous circumstances and the ferocious pressure. But of course his Ryder Cup heroics were only part of his annus mirabilis; he won the US Open as well, the first Brit, indeed the first European, to do so for 40 years.

Before last Monday, though, if you knew that a fellow from Country Antrim was going to join Barry McGuigan (Alex Higgins came second in 1982, and the Ballymena-raised 1972 winner, Mary Peters, was born in England) on the very short list of BBC Sports Personality winners from Northern Ireland, you'd have put your house on it being McCoy, in the year he not only became champion jump jockey for the 15th time but at long last won the Grand National.

A personal view is that it should still be McCoy, as much for his astonishing body of achievement as this year's deeds. But I don't suppose he'll mind, as a keen golfer himself, being pipped by a fellow son of Antrim. And what a one-two it would be.

Who will follow Capello? Don't ask Graham Taylor...

Graham Taylor was in fine form at the Rankin Club in the small Herefordshire town of Leominster on Thursday night, speaking about the vertiginous ups and downs of his football career. I asked him, hoping that he wouldn't take offence, whether perhaps the job of England manager has been conferred down the years on the basis of a fundamental misconception; that a top club manager can transfer his talents to the international scene.

After all, it's rather a long time since one Alfred Ernest Ramsey did for England what he'd done for Ipswich Town. Surely, I suggested to Taylor, the FA should have gone all out to secure the services of a proven international manager, with Guus Hiddink the outstanding candidate. He agreed, yet in almost the next breath advanced the case for Fabio Capello's successor to be one Henry James Redknapp.

Mahan deserved a little sympathy

One final thought about the Ryder Cup. I was on the course, not watching the TV coverage, when Hunter Mahan duffed that chip on the 17th. From the galleries there was euphoria. But I hope it yielded the proper response from the commentators, and that they echoed the sentiments of the late Eddie Waring, whose reaction to Don Fox skewing his kick from in front of the posts in the last seconds of the 1968 rugby league Challenge Cup final was a simple, charitable "poor lad".