Tuesday 25 April 2017

Ian Woosnam forgets Thomas Bjorn's past verbal assault to throw support behind European Ryder Cup captain

Thomas Bjorn will captain Europe in the 2018 Ryder Cup in France. John Walton/PA Wire.
Thomas Bjorn will captain Europe in the 2018 Ryder Cup in France. John Walton/PA Wire.

Of all the words of support which Thomas Bjorn has received after being confirmed as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, surely none will mean as much to him as those of Ian Woosnam.

Certainly, the Welshmen could have made it difficult for the Dane as he takes over from Darren Clarke for the match in Paris in two years time. When Woosnam overlooked Bjorn for a wildcard in 2006, the latter infamously reacted by calling him “the most pathetic captain I’ve ever seen”, “barmy” and “not burdened with too many leadership qualities".

Woosnam was hit hard by the verbal assault and later revealed that he almost quit because of it.  In the event, Europe won by a record-equalling scoreline in Dublin, with Woosnam’s two captain’s picks, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, winning seven points out of a possible eight between them.

It is believed Bjorn was fined by the European Tour and, quite understandably, Woosnam has retained a certain extent of bitterness since. However, he graciously put all that aside today.

“All that happened is water under the bridge and I fully back Thomas’s captaincy,’ Woosnam told Telegraph Sport. “What’s important is winning in Paris in 2018 and we all need to pull together in the old Europe way. I’m sure Thomas will do a great job.”

Bjorn, himself, mentioned Woosnam fondly today when talking about his Ryder Cup memories and his desire to play an influential role in the European odyssey. Woosnam was his first partner on his debut in 1997, when they beat Justin Leonard and Brad Faxon at Valderrama. “It was an incredible experience, Ian was great to play with, and that told me that the Ryder Cup was something I very much wanted to be involved in” Bjorn told the European Tour website. “This is the greatest day of my career – so far.”

A five-man selection panel, including 2016 captain Darren Clarke and his two predecessors, Paul McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal, met on Monday and despite the credentials of Paul Lawrie and Miguel Angel Jimenez were convinced by the “wealth of experience” of the 45-year-old.

Bjorn has played on three winning teams and been vice captain on four occasions, most recently alongside Clarke at Hazeltine in September which has been the only defeat in which he has so far been involved. “It’s a huge honour for me to be named Europe captain” Bjorn said.

“I studied a lot of captains as a player and as a vice captain and always wondered what that feeling would be like to be the one leading out a team of 12 great players. Now it’s my turn to do just that and it is an exciting moment for me.

“I have lived and breathed the European Tour for so long, and now I will do the same with the Ryder Cup for the next two years. I’m very much looking forward to taking on this task.”

Bjorn becomes the first Scandinavian captain of Europe and just the fourth from outside Great Britain and Ireland. Notwithstanding the hot temper, he is highly respected. He has been chairman of the influential Tournament Players’ Committee since 2007,  but will now relinquish this to concentrate on the challenge of helping Europe to avoid losing back-to-back Cups for the first time in 25 years.

The 15-time European Tour winner, who was twice a runner-up in The Open, knows the 2018 host the Le Golf National venue well, having played in the Open de France 14 times.  He will give his first  press conference as captain tomorrow when he will outline his vision.

The United States might also name their captain this week. Their selection panel, which includes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, began their deliberations earlier today on a conference call. Jim Furyk is the favourite with Steve Stricker and Fred Couples also in the running.

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