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Countdown begins to crucial captaincy vote

Abu Dhabi Golf ClubLogic suggests that Paul McGinley will be elected as Ireland’s first Ryder Cup captain when the Tournament Players Committee sits down in Abu Dhabi to discuss the matter later this evening.

He’s got the unequivocal support of the world No 1 Rory McIlroy, No 3 Luke Donald and Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter as well as Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari while other team members such as Paul Lawrie have said the Dubliner or Darren Clarke should get the job.

Twelve of the 15 man committee that will choose the man to stand opposite Tom Watson at Gleneagles will be present. But just who will remain in the room when the matter comes up for discussion could hold the key to McGinley’s fate.

The contenders are normally asked to step outside before the debate and that could well decide who eventually gets the nod.

Clarke will be asked straight away if he is still interested and if he says no, his presence in the room could well hinder McGinley’s chances of beating off a late challenge from 2010 captain Colin Montgomerie.

What would happen if Clarke had another change of heart and decided, finally, that this was indeed his time?

If Montgomerie stands down, McGinley would have more than a sporting chance of beating Clarke in a vote with our sources indicating that committee members Paul Casey, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Peter Lawrie, Francesco Molinari and the absentee Miguel Angel Jiméne are all in his corner.

Sweden Henrik Stenson - the man who proposed Montgomerie for the job in 2009 - appears to have changed horses in recent weeks and backed away what we believe was a pro-McGinley stance.

Clarke’s call for Europe to appoint someone with a huge presence to take on Watson would suggest that the 2011 Open champion is not about to support McGinley, should he step aside.

That would be ironic given his insistence on RTE TV’s Late Late Show last year that whatever happened, Ireland would at least be guaranteed its first Ryder Cup captain.

We understand that the Ulsterman knows that McGinley would be highly unlikely to give him, or current committee chairman Thomas Bjorn, a vice-captaincy at Gleneagles.

Clarke would still be regarded as the leading contender for the job in the US in 2016 but Bjorn could ill afford to be left out of the frame if he is to be considered a likely future captain.

Recalling Montgomerie in the face of opposition from McIlroy and Paul Lawrie, to name but two, would be akin to switching on a ticking time bomb in the European camp.

Set to turn 50 next June, would the Scot really be prepared to concentrate on what he admits is a time-consuming job and give up the chance to make a financial killing on the US Champions Tour?

A move for a compromise candidate in Jiménez cannot be ruled out either given the Spaniard’s immense popularity with the players and public alike.

We believe he’s behind McGinley’s candidacy but should he be asked about his interest for Gleneagles, he cannot be ruled out.

After all, Montgomerie was not mentioned as a candidate for 2010 until the committee sat down to choose a man to lead Europe out of the wilderness following Nick Faldo’s ill-fated captaincy at Valhalla in 2008.

Logic would suggest that McGinley is the man best placed to take the reins in Scotland but given precedents and the “confidence” of the Montgomerie camp that their man will win the day, it appears that just about anything can happen.