Darren Clarke stirred controversy by leaving in-form Russell Knox out of his Ryder Cup line-up. Ralph Ellis says Europe's captain is showing gutsy leadership...
"Europe are great value to back at 3.052/1 to deliver yet another Ryder Cup win (or at the very least lay USA at 1.674/6 to cash in if it is a tie). Clarke’s firm decision making is in complete contrast to America’s captain Davis Love III."
I once played golf with Darren Clarke. I'd been sent to Dublin to interview him, and when we finished chatting he invited me to make up the numbers for one of the teams in a charity day he was supporting.
I actually hit one of the best shots I've played in my life, a long fairway wood that trickled onto the beautifully manicured green at Portmarnock golf links and stopped about two inches from the hole. On a superbly sunny afternoon, to be followed by a pint or two of Guinness in the clubhouse, it was the sort of moment you don't forget.
Darren has long since forgotten it, obviously. Not a sniff of a mention of my name when he named his wildcards for the Ryder Cup yesterday. But it was pretty clear that the rest of his choices were heavily influenced by people he has played with.
Lee Westwood might now be as low as 46 in the world, but he was alongside Clarke as his friend and a shoulder to lean on during his emotional performance at the K Club 10 years ago. He's in. And Europe's captain played next to Thomas Pieters in the first round in Denmark last week when he hit a superb 62. That sealed his place.
Leaving out Russell Knox, currently 20th in the world, was a hard call, especially when Martin Kaymer is 30 places below him in the rankings. But Clarke wanted experience in a side that already had five rookies among the nine automatic places and was completely clear in his own mind about the decision.
And that is why Europe are great value to back at 3.052/1 to deliver yet another Ryder Cup win (or at the very least lay USA at 1.674/6 to cash in if it is a tie). Clarke's firm decision making is in complete contrast to America's captain Davis Love III.
While Darren has gone with his gut feelings, Love is asking the eight players who have automatically qualified to help him make his mind up about who to choose for the remaining four captain's picks. It's still wide open in the market for who will make the USA team.
"If somebody says: 'I want you to pick this guy because I want to play with him and we won't lose,' then we are going to take that into account," says Love.
Sounds great in theory. Just as does the branding of Team America as "12 Strong", a motto which will be stitched onto all their clothing.
But history shows that the Ryder Cup tends to be decided by the players following a strong and inspiring leader, rather than working as a collective. It's where Europe has consistently scored and where the Americans have fallen down. Phil Mickelson's withering assault on Tom Watson's leadership at Gleneagles two years ago being the ultimate case in point.
In contrast Pieters will head to Hazeltine with this ringing endorsement from his captain: "I played with Tiger Woods when he was an amateur and I've known Rory McIlroy since he was a kid. I'd place Thomas with those guys in terms of talent." How's that for a confidence boost?
Westwood and Kaymer will both also benefit from the endorsement of one of the most popular men on tour.
I still cherish the memory of how Clarke, puffing amiably on his cigar on a sunny afternoon near Dublin, brought the best from me. I'll be backing him to do the same from his team.