DARREN CLARKE has taken himself out of contention to be Europe's Ryder Cup captain at Gleneagles in 2014, leaving the way clear for Colin Montgomerie to be Paul McGinley's main challenger in next week's vote.
Clarke believes he has one more shot at playing in the biennial match after making a return to form recently. The 44-year-old won the British Open less than 18 months ago and feels he can add to his five previous playing appearances.
After his 68 in the second round of the Volvo Champions left him one-under-par for the tournament Clarke said: "As much as I would dearly love to be captain, this may not be my time."
Clarke employed cryptic language because this is not simply a case of withdrawing one's candidature.
It is not a role which can be applied for, but he has made his desire known to fellow members on the Tournament Players Committee who will choose Jose Maria Olazabal's successor in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The Northern Irishman's decision must be respected and will surely serve as a rebuke to those critics who questioned his commitment to golf following his Major breakthrough at Sandwich in 2011. Clarke's work rate only increased as his form dropped off.
"When I was initially mentioned as a potential captain in October I wasn't playing very well," said Clarke. "I played much better at the end of last year and have been thinking long and hard about it all over the Christmas break.
"I won one of the biggest prizes in golf by winning The Open and I am exempt for another three years on the PGA Tour.
"If I was given the opportunity to do the captaincy, I'd effectively be throwing two of those years away. It's a tough one for me, but to be honest with you I want to play golf."
Henrik Stenson, another member of the committee, hinted at how Clarke's decision had changed the picture which will confront the 15 men in the UAE capital.
"I would have thought Darren and Paul are the two nominees but there has been some information in the last couple of days that we might consider it differently so I still think it's more open," said the Swede.
Speculation will now intensify on a remarkable return to the hot seat for Montgomerie, 28 months after his win at Celtic Manor.
While McGinley is the obvious choice – having twice impressed as a Ryder Cup assistant captain as well as a winning Seve Trophy captain – there is a growing sense that Montgomerie, who turns 50 in June, could be Europe's first repeat captain since Bernard Gallacher in 1995.
This would inevitably be seen as a reaction to America reinstating the veteran Tom Watson – the last US captain to win on European soil, way back in 1993.
Montgomerie's Perthshire estate is a few miles from Gleneagles and the Scot's selection would guarantee a Tartan presence.
Thomas Bjorn, the chairman of the committee, could also come into consideration.
Meanwhile, world number six Louis Oosthuizen ended the second round of the Volvo Champions with a real flourish to complete a bogey-free 64 and seize a one-stroke lead at Durban Country Club.
Six shots adrift in a share of fourth place were British pair Paul Lawrie (70) and Danny Willett (70), Frenchman Julien Quesne (67), Offalyman Shane Lowry (69), Bjorn (70) and Jeev Milkha Singh of India (70).
"My main goal was to hit as many greens as I could," Oosthuizen said. "A lot of times I didn't even go close to the pins – I just decided to hit the centre of the greens. You get those days when the putts won't go in and you shoot one or two-under but today the putts went in."
Clarke, of course, sits two shots back of the Dubliner on one-under while Michael Hoey shot 74 yesterday to leave him on two-over-par going into the cut-free weekend. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Volvo Golf Champions, Day 3
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