Sunday 17 December 2017

Where there's a Willett there's no way - Clarke omits Danny from opening session

Danny Willett will not play on Friday morning
Danny Willett will not play on Friday morning

Masters champion Danny Willett was left out of the opening session of the 41st Ryder Cup as the furore over his brother's anti-American comments hit home.

Willett had looked set to partner Lee Westwood in the morning foursomes as the pair practised together on Thursday, with European captain Darren Clarke sending his likely pairings out together.

But after seeing Willett struggling with his game - including an errant shot on the second which hit a spectator on the head - in a nine-hole match against Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, Clarke took the decision to pair rookie Thomas Pieters with Westwood instead.

Open champion Henrik Stenson and Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose, who won all three matches together at Gleneagles in 2014, were chosen to contest the opening match against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who also went unbeaten in Scotland.

Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan were up against Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in match two, with Garcia and Kaymer then taking on Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson.

Westwood and Pieters were in the final match against US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar and Clarke insisted it had not been a last-minute decision.

"You may have your pairings, but you also have a few different ones in the back of your mind as well," Clarke said. "And that's preparation. And I have been prepared for a few different scenarios with a few different pairings.

" None of these pairings are thrown together at the last moment, should we say. This has always been part of what I've been thinking."

Clarke said Willett would play in the afternoon fourballs and insisted he had no concerns about the world number 10's state of mind.

"I have a plan what I'm going to try and execute this week and Danny is fine," he added.

"Danny is ready to go. He wants to play. He's like all the guys - he's disappointed he's not playing in the morning, and he understands what I'm trying to do is for the team. There is no individual in our 12. It's about the team.

" Danny's playing great. Danny's playing fine. I have no worries about Danny whatsoever, mentally or otherwise. His golf game's good. He's ready to go play.

"Obviously the incident that has happened has created a bit of a furore, but Danny is the Masters champion. He's a great golfer and he's ready to play and do what he needs to do for Europe, and he will do that."

Speaking before the pairings were revealed at the opening ceremony, Willett admitted his Ryder Cup debut had been tarnished by the column his brother Peter wrote for National Club Golfer magazine, which described American fans - among other derogatory things - as a ''braying mob of imbeciles.''

There were some relatively harmless comments directed towards him during Europe's final practice round on Thursday, while Pete Cowen - coach to several of the European team - jokingly attempted to draw a target on the back of Willett's white shirt.

''It's been pretty tricky for me to get back on and fully focus these last few hours,'' said the 28-year-old. ''I was disappointed in what he wrote and it put a bit of a downer on my first Ryder Cup for the last couple of days. Obviously it's been tarnished slightly.

''Coming to America (as a European) you're already a bit of a target and it kind of centred the attention a bit more upon myself.

''There's some pretty rowdy American fans every Ryder Cup, that's the nature of the beast, that's what happens. Same when the guys come to Europe. You don't mind the odd bit of heckling but hope it doesn't go too far."

Willett has received an apology from his brother, but admits there will be more conversations about his part-time writing sideline when he returns home next week.

"I've got to be relatively selfish in all of this," he added. "I appreciate maybe it's his career but it's also mine at the same time.''

Willett received the backing of Patrick Reed, who was America's pantomime villain at Gleneagles two years ago with his animated antics on the course.

''It's forgive and forget. It's unfortunate that something was said, and not from actual Danny,'' said the 26-year-old.

''I heard the other day that his family was embarrassed; that they were thinking about flying home and that's something that just can't happen.

''I hope for the best for Danny and his family and hope they actually enjoy the week and that our fans don't just completely annihilate them."

Press Association

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