Clarke starts 2008 Ryder Cup bid

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke will kick-start his 2008 Ryder Cup campaign alongside two of his K Club team mates in Switzerland today.

But just like playing partners David Howell and Robert Karlsson, the Ulsterman knows that making the side will be as tough as ever as the battle for places begins in the Omega European Masters.

And given the strength in depth of European golf these days, spots in Nick Faldo's 12-man squad will be bitterly disputed until the final counting event at Gleneagles in 12 months time.

Just five of the side that hammered the United States in Ireland will tee it up at Crans Sur Sierre today.

And England's Lee Westwood, 34, has warned that earning a plane ticket to Valhalla in Kentucky next year will be as tough as ever.

Westwood said: "I think, like the last two teams, it will be very hard to make the team.

"There are a lot of very strong players in Europe now and you could put 30 or 40 candidates forward for the Ryder Cup."

Westwood was Europe's joint top scorer at The K Club alongside Spanish ace Sergio Garcia.

And as he tees it up alongside 2006 team mates Clarke, Howell, Karlsson and Paul Casey, he is aware that getting his schedule right is a vital part of the process.

The European selection system is unchanged with the top five players from the World Points List and the top five from the European Points List joined by two wild cards.

Westwood and Clarke needed captain's picks last year, but the Englishman will be hoping to play his way into the side this time around.

Like Clarke, he'll miss the Volvo Masters at Valderrama as he has committed to a three-year deal to play in the clashing Singapore Open.

But he knows there are more world ranking points on offer in US events and like Dubliner Padraig Harrington, Westwood will be targeting next year's FedEx Cup play-offs as a way of amassing huge Ryder Cup qualifying points.

He said: "If it is the world points you want, the last couple of weeks in the FedEx Cup have been like majors in terms of world ranking points."

Graeme McDowell, Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie complete the Irish challenge in an event worth €333,330 to the winner.

But three-time Ryder Cup campaigner Paul McGinley is still on holiday and will not begin his chase for points until next week's Mercedes-Benz Championship in Germany.

Open champion Padraig Harrington is not expected to return to action in Europe until the Seve Trophy matches at the Heritage later this month.

The Dubliner pulled out of this week's BMW Championship in Chicago because of mental fatigue.

Providing he remains inside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings, he'll almost certainly play in the Tour Championship in Atlanta next week

If he misses out, he could make an appearance the limited field Mercedes event in Germany and extend his €326,483 lead over England's Justin Rose in the Order of Merit.