Friday 15 November 2019

Clarke steps closer to Ryder captaincy with Gleneagles U-turn

Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke

Karl MacGinty

DARREN CLARKE back-pedalled yesterday on his scathing criticism of the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles and, as a result, took a significant step closer to becoming European Ryder Cup captain in two years' time.

The Ulsterman has revised his opinion of the controversial 2014 Ryder Cup venue -- prompted, he says, by last winter's revamp of the course.

Before playing in the Pro-Am on the eve of the Johnnie Walker Championship yesterday, Clarke said: "I've heard about all the changes they've done. I haven't played all of them yet, but the ones I saw were massive improvements."

The course was closed for several months last winter for an upgrade overseen by original designer Jack Nicklaus. Holes nine and 18 underwent significant alterations, while many bunkers were re-sanded and a new SubAir drainage system was installed under each green.

"With the SubAir system they have put in, it will suck the moisture out of the greens and they will be much, much better," explained Clarke.

It's a far cry from his verdict on the Centenary Course after a first-round 73 in 2007, when Clarke infamously said of its selection to host the Ryder Cup: "I think it's unbelievable. There are even two better (courses) here at Gleneagles.

"Scotland is the home of golf and we should not be playing on an American-style course -- it's beyond my comprehension."

Even if they buried a set of bagpipes under every green or sprinkled powdered haggis in the bunkers, Clarke's initial view of Gleneagles (or 2006 Ryder Cup venue The K Club, for that matter) holds firm, even if he doesn't.

The Ulsterman, who rivals Dubliner Paul McGinley as favourite for the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy, tees it up at the Johnnie Walker Championship for the first time in four years this afternoon.

Initially, he had no intention of playing. Clarke didn't enter the tournament but received a sponsor's invite last week when he, McGinley and Johnnie Walker title holder Thomas Bjorn were unveiled by Jose Maria Olazabal -- today's playing partner along with Johan Edfors -- as his vice-captains for next month's Ryder Cup.

Miguel Angel Jimenez also accepted an invite to play at Gleneagles but, surprisingly, was not unveiled by Olazabal as his fourth vice-captain.

Was the skipper keeping his options open for next Monday's unveiling of his two picks?

Nicolas Colsaerts has most to play for this weekend. The big-hitting Belgian will oust Martin Kaymer from the all-important top-10 on the Ryder Cup points list if he wins or finishes second.

If not, Volvo World Match Play champ Colsaerts is widely expected to receive a wild card, along with Ian Poulter.

Johnnie Walker Championship,

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