PAUL McGinley has been appointed Europe's captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, the European Tour's tournament committee has announced.
The 46-year-old, who holed the winning putt in the 2002 match at The Belfry, edged former skipper Colin Montgomerie in a vote taken by the 15-man committee in Abu Dhabi.
The Irishman has twice been a vice-captain, to Montgomerie in Wales in 2010 and to Olazabal two years later.
McGinley said: "It's a week that I'm really looking forward to."
McGinley added: "I'm obviously very pleased to be in this situation. This is a position that I'm really thrilled to be in, and it's also a very humbling experience. I can't wait to get into the role of being the captain.
"I'm relishing the thought of taking on one of my great heroes, Tom Watson.
"He's not only a wonderful person abut a great ambassador for the game of golf.
"I've never had an opportunity to go up against him in a playing sense.
"To go up against him in a captaincy sense will be a real thrill for me."
He had been in the frame for the job ever since being made Britain and Ireland captain against Continental Europe in the Seve Trophy in 2009. Whether hitting the shots or not, he was never on the losing side there either.
Despite the credentials, he faced competition for the captaincy first from Darren Clarke, another of the vice-captains in the last two matches, and then Montgomerie.
Having won the 2011 Open and come through a slump in form, he wants to play in the match again - his last cap was seven years ago - and now becomes favourite to take charge in America in 2016.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 contest at Celtic Manor in Wales - another one-point win for Europe - Montgomerie vowed he would not stand again.
But once Watson's name was announced before Christmas, Clarke said that a rethink was possibly needed by the committee so that a big personality would be up against the five-time Open champion.
That brought the 49-year-old Scot's name back into the frame for the first match on his home soil since 1973 - just a few miles from his house, in fact.
"It would be a dream come true," Montgomerie said only on Sunday before flying to Abu Dhabi from South Africa.
He has also stated, though, that he was not pushing for the role again, but was there if his fellow committee members considered him "the best man for the job".
In the end they did not - to the relief of not only McGinley, but also Rory McIlroy.
"I have a very strong opinion about this," the 23-year-old world number one said earlier in the day. "I really think Paul deserves it.
"He has been a great player and a great personality for the European Tour over the years. I also played under him at the Seve Trophy in 2009 and I thought he did a great job.
"From all the captains I've played under, I think he was the best."
McIlroy seemed to be perturbed that several members of last year's team do not serve on the tournament committee. Montgomerie, Clarke and McGinley are three of the 15 members, but the only current cup player is Francesco Molinari.
"I would like to think our opinions are valuable to them and they make the decision based on that."
The system faces a review before the 2016 match, with past captains likely to be part of a new body.
McGinley may have had only four Tour wins in his career and therefore lack a high profile, but he will bring years of studying the art of captaincy to the position.
"Personally, I love the tactical side of it, the motivational side and the team element of it - and I love being in the team room," he said in August.
"The team meetings always give me a great buzz as a player.
"I don't want to give too much away, but I do watch a lot of things you wouldn't even know about, including press conferences.
"I'm intrigued with it, I have to say. I'm intrigued with how Ryder Cups have been won and lost over the years.
"I've asked a lot of questions of a lot of people and got a lot of information, not just from our side. I've always enjoyed having a beer with the American players or captain afterwards.
"I've done that on a few occasions and asked them their strategy for the week and why did they make certain decisions."
Now he and his wife Alison, a former player herself, must prepare themselves for 20 months of what Montgomerie and Olazabal have called intense scrutiny - and what Montgomerie also considers "an invasion of privacy" to some extent.
McIlroy predictably welcomed the appointment.
He wrote on Twitter: "Common sense prevailed in the end.... Paul McGinley 2014 European Ryder Cup captain!!! Couldn't be happier for him... Roll on Gleneagles."
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond also sent his support, saying: "I'm sure the whole of Scotland will join me in welcoming Paul McGinley and congratulating him on his appointment as captain of the European team for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
"Paul is a model professional and has always been held in extremely high regard by the Scottish golfing public and he can be sure the whole country will be behind him and his team come September 2014.
"Of course, he already has a place in Ryder Cup history thanks to his winning putt at The Belfry in 2002 and we are all hoping he adds another incredible chapter to that history when the Ryder Cup visits the Home of Golf in less than two years' time."
McGinley served his apprenticeship as a skipper when he led Britain and Ireland to victory over Continental Europe in the Seve Trophy team event in 2009 and 2011.
He played in three Ryder Cups, from 2002-06, and was triumphant each time.
A winner of four European Tour titles, McGinley's best campaign was in 2005 when he finished runner-up three times before lifting the season-ending Volvo Masters crown.
In recent times Europe have taken the view that the Ryder Cup captain should serve for one match only, an approach that was always likely to give him an advantage over Montgomerie.
McGinley, the first Irish captain, will be up against eight-times major winner Tom Watson who skippers the U.S. at Gleneagles, Scotland in 2014.