European Team is Set
European Captain Ian Woosnam rounded out his team for the 36th Ryder Cup on Sunday by selecting veterans Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. They join the 10 players who played their way onto the squad.
September 03, 2006
MUNICH, Germany (PA) -- European Captain Ian Woosnam has taken the calculated gamble that Darren Clarke will be able to cope with the emotion of a Ryder Cup in Ireland being staged just six weeks after the death of his wife.
Clarke and close friend Lee Westwood were, as widely predicted, named as Europe's two wild cards on Sunday.
They join the 10 players who played their way onto the team: Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, David Howell, Robert Karlsson, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Henrik Stenson.
Westwood's 28th-place finish in the final counting event, the BMW International Open, came too late to make him one of the 10 automatic qualifiers. But having climbed off his sickbed to compete in Munich this week, his gritty display helped make him Woosnam's choice ahead of Thomas Bjorn, who before the decision admitted he would be "devastated" to miss out.
"It has been the most difficult decision I have had to make in my life," Woosnam said of picking Westwood. "I only made my mind up an hour ago and I haven't told Lee he is in. I tried to ring him but he was obviously on a plane home. I'll ring him later and give him the good news.
With Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley already on the team, Clarke's inclusion means that, as in 2002 and 2004, a quarter of the European line-up will be Irish. What makes it extra special this time, though, is that the match is being held on Irish soil for the first time -- at the K Club west of Dublin on Sept. 22-24.
"No one who has ever had to go through the process of selecting only two out of a group of supremely gifted players can ever understand how difficult that decision is to make," said U.S. Captain Tom Lehman. "I understand and am filled with genuine admiration for what Captain Woosnam has done with his selections. Darren and Lee make an already strong European team even stronger yet, and the inclusion of Darren Clarke is more than appropriate. The American team in its entirety is pleased that he will be a part of the upcoming Ryder Cup.
"Congratulations to Ian and all of the members of the 2006 European Ryder Cup team," he added. "The American team looks forward to competing against you all in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in late September in Ireland."
A member of the last four teams, Clarke has not played competitively since the British Open in July, where under the strain of the situation at home, he had a second-round 82 and missed the halfway cut.
Clarke said then he would not be playing again "for the foreseeable future." The Ryder Cup was the last thing on his mind then, but he feels able to make the commitment now, and intends playing in the Madrid Masters on the European Tour the week before.
"Clarke is not a risk given the circumstances. He practices every day and is going to play in the Madrid Open," Woosnam said. "He said that is what he would do. I am sure we he will be up for it. Darren is a great golfer and has a great Ryder Cup record. I think this is what Heather would have wanted."
It is impossible, however, to know how Clarke will cope with a week in which wives and girlfriends become part of the team and one that even in normal circumstances places more mental and physical demands on a player than any other.
Tiger Woods played the U.S. Open in June six weeks after the death of his father. He hoped it was sufficient time, but he had back-to-back 76s and missed his first halfway cut in a major in his professional career.
But Clarke is the course record-holder at the K Club with his incredible European Tour-best 12-under 60 set in 1999 and lifted the European Open title there two years later.
Westwood is twice a winner at the K Club, whereas Bjorn's last memory is a nightmare 86 last year. He had been four in front with a round to go, but had an 11 on the 17th while tied for the lead.
The Dane is another of Clarke's best friends and, like Westwood, was encouraged to play in the PGA Championship two weeks ago rather than attend the funeral in Northern Ireland.
Bjorn was in floods of tears at the prayer service held in Heather Clarke's memory at Medinah before the start of the tournament. He had to tee off only an hour later, shot 80 and stated later: "It was too hard for me to play."
He could still have made the team this week, but had to win the BMW International Open and managed only 13th place.
"I won't say who missed out, just that it was an incredibly tough decision. I will ring those who missed out over the next day or so and tell them I made the decision with my heart," he added. "Some people will say we are favorites, but this will be a very close match. They always are."
While bitterly disappointed not to have got Woosnam's vote for a wild card, Bjorn spoke in glowing terms of the way Clarke has handled the tragedy in his private life.
"Darren's a tough guy -- he's dealt with the last two to four years better than any human being I know," said Bjorn. "He's been through hell and dealt with it very well. Because of that I don't have any concerns about the Ryder Cup."
With no changes in the top 10 in Germany -- Jose Maria Olazabal by controversially taking the week off and McGinley by missing the cut had left themselves vulnerable -- Woosnam will have a team made up entirely of players in the world's top 50.
That will be a first for Europe, and the Americans cannot say the same. Of their four little-known rookies, only Zach Johnson is a top 50 player.
The only European first-timers are Swedes Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson. There would have been a third if their compatriot Carl Pettersson had been a member of the European Tour from the start of qualifying, but he started collecting points only after he had had a win and a second-place in America and, despite another victory there in May, he failed to qualify.
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