US edge captaincy race for 2014 Ryder Cup

The opening skirmishes for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Scotland, have been played out and the United States have come out on top.

The issue of team captaincy, traditionally the starting point in the two-year cycle, saw the Americans act decisively in naming golfing legend Tom Watson to the position for a second time almost 20 years after his first stint as skipper.

In contrast, the Europeans went through a messy process that was only resolved in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night with the naming of Irishman Paul McGinley.

Key to the early US edge was the speed with which they regrouped following the shocking last day collapse against Jose Maria Olazabal's Europe side in Chicago in late September.

The choice of Watson to lead the US team barely six weeks later was not only met with near unanimous consent at home, it promptly stirred divisions in the European camp.

The early thinking had been that it was a straight choice for the captaincy between Irish pair McGinley and Darren Clarke, both of whom have fine Ryder Cup records as players.

But Watson, a nine-time major winner, who is adored in Scotland, suddenly loomed larger than life and fears were expressed that neither McGinley nor Clarke had the stature to go up against him.

Enter Colin Montgomerie, a Ryder Cup legend himself, the winning captain at Celtic Manor, Wales in 2010 and a Scot to boot, eager to put in a second shift on home territory in 2014.

With Clarke all but ruling himself out of contention, it came down to a contest between McGinley and Montgomerie and it took what amounted to a player power movement, led by world No.1 Rory McIlroy, to ensure that the Dubliner got the nod to become the first Irishman to captain a Ryder Cup side.

Fittingly McIlroy was on hand in an Abu Dhabi hotel when the European Tour's tournament committee announced their decision to name McGinley as captain.

"I'm absolutely thrilled for Paul," said the 23-year-old Ulsterman, who will open his season at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship this week.

"As soon as I found out he had been appointed captain I couldn't wait to rush down and congratulate him.

"I'd like to think it means something when you've got players like myself, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Justin Rose all voicing their opinion that they want Paul to captain the team.

I don't mind it being a David and Goliath situation in terms of the captains. It's won on the course, not on the stage."

McGinley, who sank the winning putt at the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, admitted that he had endured a testing last few weeks amid the doubts being expressed that he was undeserving of going up against the mighty Watson.

"I watched with interest," he said. "Like a yo-yo my chances seemed to go up and down.

"I felt the more I said the more my chances would lessen. I was very tempted to speak up, but my wife and friends told me to stay with dignity, don't get involved and it will work in the long term. I believed it too."

McGinley will now be able to enjoy a relatively quiet period when he can take stock of the task before him and put in place a team of assistant captains to share the burden.

At some stage he will also have his first joint Ryder Cup news conference with Watson, when the comparisons of their respective careers will undoubtedly resurface.

The American, 17 years older than McGinley at 63, dubbed his European counterpart a "class act" and added: "I congratulate Paul McGinley upon his selection as the next European Ryder Cup captain and anticipate that his passion and love of the event will transfer to being an outstanding leader of his team in 2014 at Gleneagles.

"Paul has been connected to four winning European Ryder Cup teams and is an outstanding representative of European golf. I look forward to sharing the stage with him as we make our journey to Scotland."

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