Monday 24 October 2016

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke: US Ryder Cup team will be baying for blood

European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke holds the Ryder Cup trophy
European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke holds the Ryder Cup trophy

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke is confident his players will be able to handle the partisan atmosphere when he leads Europe's defence of the trophy against a United States team which will be "baying for blood".

The biennial contest has been played in an excellent spirit since 2002 after previously being marred by a number of unsavoury incidents, most notably 1991's 'War on the Shore' at Kiawah Island and the 'Battle of Brookline' in 1999.

And Clarke expects the positivity to continue at Hazeltine next year, despite two of his prospective team - Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter - recently being heckled during the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

Garcia said he suffered abuse "three or four times on every hole since the 10th" in the final round before losing out in a play-off with Rickie Fowler and Kevin Kisner, while Poulter was heckled on the 17th green.

But speaking after announcing there would be no changes to the Ryder Cup qualifying system, Clarke said: "It's always part and parcel.

"Sergio, bless him, he's great, but Sergio just fires people up. That's what he does. You know, it's part of the modern game. Poults gets a bit of it as well (but) these guys are professionals, they are thick-skinned and it's part and parcel.

"If the Americans come to Europe, they get 'Ole! Ole! Ole!' all the time and we go over there, it's all 'USA, USA, USA'. That's part of the Ryder Cup.

"Home advantage is huge and it's part and parcel of the Ryder Cup. But I think the likes of Sergio or Poults have been on the tour too long to let something like that affect them."

Clarke had hinted in March that he was more likely to reduce his wild cards from three to two rather than increase them, but has decided to keep the same format used to determine the team for Gleneagles in 2014.

That means nine players will qualify automatically, with the first four coming from the European points list - based on points gained in European Tour events - and five from the world points list - based on world ranking points gained globally - with Clarke then selecting three wild cards.

"I gave it a lot of thought," Clarke said during a press conference ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on Tuesday. "I looked at a lot of stats and comparisons from what teams would have been had the system been slightly different in past years.

"But my overall feeling was that with the team Paul (McGinley) assembled at Gleneagles and how successful they were, it would have been very foolish to make any changes.

"After looking at it in depth, it became apparent that sticking with this system will give us the best chance of having the strongest possible team.

"I do want to make my own mark on the captaincy and I will in a few different ways. But I want to be able to be in the position to select the strongest possible team because we are going to need it whenever we get there, because they are going to be strong.

"They are going to be baying for blood and trying to win it back, and rightly so, but that's what's going to make it such an exciting event."

The last counting event has yet to be determined but is traditionally held at the end of August, with the 2016 Ryder Cup itself taking place from September 30 to October 2.

Clarke is seeking to win the Irish Open for the first time at the 24th attempt, with a final round of 66 in the BMW PGA Championship suggesting he could record his first top-10 finish on the European Tour since winning the Open Championship in 2011.

And world number one Rory McIlroy will look to bounce back from his missed cut at Wentworth by avoiding a similar early exit from his home event for the third straight year.

McIlroy is in for a busy week with his foundation hosting the event, but 2007 winner Padraig Harrington said: "I don't think it will be a problem for him. I think he's got a good enough game that he can win against whatever difficulties are set up for him in that sense.

"I think he's good enough in his mindset that he's quite happy to go out there and play, without having the ideal preparation. I for one would not be discounting him."

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