Ryder Cup veterans Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke have been chosen as Europe’s two wildcard selections for this month’s clash with the USA at the K Club in Ireland after European skipper Ian Woosnam (pictured) confirmed his choices at a press conference yesterday evening. The popular duo have fine Ryder Cup records and they were selected ahead of the likes of Thomas Bjorn, Ian Poulter and Paul Broadhurst, all of whom will be extremely disappointed to miss out.
Both men played crucial roles in the record European victory at Oakland Hills in 2004 and this was certainly one of the decisive factors in their selection. Westwood endured a miserable run of form in 2005 but has recently upped his game, while Clarke had looked a certainty to qualify automatically before his wife’s struggle with cancer and her subsequent death led to him taking a break from the game earlier in the summer. He has not played competitve golf since the Open Championship in July but is scheduled to return in the forthcoming Madrid Masters – which begins one week before the Ryder Cup starts on September 22nd.
It was a difficult decision for Woosnam, who mirrored the emotions shown by US captain Tom Lehman when he chose his picks two weeks ago.
“Choosing the wildcard picks has been the most difficult decision I have had to make in my entire life,” Woosnam said on Sunday.
“I won’t say who missed out, just that it was extremely difficult. Darren is a great competitor. It’s going to be an emotional time for him but I’m sure he’ll cope well. Lee has played some great golf over the last few months and his experience is also vital. He has also won twice at the K Club before so knows the course very well. The two boys have played well together in Ryder Cups before but they have also put in good performances with other players.”
Westwood was unavailable for comment last night but Clarke showed his pride and delight at the faith shown in him by Woosnam.
“I am both honoured and delighted,” the Ulsterman said on hearing the news.
“I would not have considered making myself available unless I felt I could contribute to the cause. It’s going to be fantastic to play in Ireland and it will be a great occasion for everybody. I would not have wanted to miss it and neither would my lovely wife Heather.”
Earlier on Sunday Ireland’s Paul McGinley and Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal finally secured their places in the final automatic qualifying berths after the BMW International Open. Olazabal made the risky decision to miss the tournament in order to keep himself fresh, while McGinley suffered a nervous and powerless weekend of waiting after missing the cut – leaving himself vulnerable to a strong finish by Johan Edfors, Bjorn or Broadhurst. Any of the three men could have overtaken McGinley or Olazabal but they were unable to seize their chances, meaning that McGinley will earn his third consecutive cap and Olazabal his first since 1999.
“It’s a huge relief,” McGinley said on hearing the news that he had made the team despite only one top ten finish since January.
“I’ve been under a great deal of pressure and I feel that a great weight has been lifted from me. Now I can get ready for one of the biggest weeks of my life without worrying or looking over my shoulder. It’s going to be a fantastic week and I would have hated not to be a part of it.”
Olazabal’s manager also released a statement outlining the Spaniard’s delight at securing an automatic place on the team after a seven year absence. He was also keen to dispel the worries that Olazabal might be too old to make an impact after such a break from the presitgious event.
“Jose is delighted to be in team, and much more so as an automatic choice rather than a pick,” revealed Sergio Gomez.
“I spoke to him an hour ago and he said that he will do his best to be a very positive element in the team. He does not forget that in the singles in 1993 he was defeated by Raymond Floyd when he was 51. Jose still loves the game and keeps himself as fit as possible.”
EUROPEAN RYDER CUP TEAM TO FACE THE USA AT THE K CLUB, IRELAND – SEPT 22/24
1. David Howell (Eng)
2. Paul Casey (Eng)
3. Luke Donald (Eng)
4. Sergio Garcia (Spa)
5. Colin Montgomerie (Sco)
6. Henrik Stenson (Swe)
7. Robert Karlsson (Swe)
8. Padraig Harrington (Ire)
9. Paul McGinley (Ire)
10. Jose Maria Olazabal (Spa)
11. Darren Clarke (NI)
12. Lee Westwood (Eng)