By Brian Keogh
Europe needs Darren Clarke to ride his new wave of confidence to the gates of Valhalla for his sixth Ryder Cup cap.
That’s the view of Irish aces Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, who believe the Ulsterman’s vast experience will be vital when Nick Faldo’s new-look side takes on the Americans in Kentucky.
Delighted for Clarke following his fairytale comeback from the golfing doldrums in the BMW Asian Open, the pair are convinced that he has the confidence and the momentum to add some badly needed matchplay experience to a 12-man European side that could feature six rookies in September.
Four-time Ryder Cup star Harrington said: “Looking at the Ryder Cup tables, there are a substantial number of rookies in contention and six rookies is probably a lot.
“But it is amazing how the more experienced guys come to the fore when the qualifying gets down to the nitty gritty and with guys like Darren playing well the balance could be 7-5 or even 8-4 in favour of the more veteran players.
“This augurs very well for Darren and if he keeps up this form he will make the team automatically.
“If you are going to play well in a Ryder Cup year, the time to do it is during the summer, when all the big points are up for grabs. He is right in form now and ready to go.”
Ulsterman McDowell is one of five possible rookies currently inside the ten automatic qualifiers alongside England’s Justin Rose and Nick Dougherty, Swede Daniel Chopra and the impressive German Martin Kaymer.
But with untried players like Danes Soren Kjeldsen and Anders Hansen, England’s Steve Webster and Frenchman Gregory Bourdy on the verge of selection, McDowell sees Clarke as a man who will strike fear into Paul Azinger’s US side.
McDowell said: “The confidence you get from winning is massive and I would expect to see more from Darren this year and I expect him to give the Ryder Cup team a real run now.
“There is no doubt that seeing as the team might have a different shape to it this year as regards experience, it will be important to have a couple of real Ryder up stalwarts in there. You need a couple of really experienced guys and Darren would certainly be one of those guys.”
Harrington added: “I totally agree. It was a big day for Darren. You could see the emotion of winning. In terms of his golfing career it is very important that he gets back on that winning ladder.
“It is a good tournament that he has won and it will get him going for the bigger events to come this season.
“It gets him right back into the Ryder Cup and here are a lot of things that it is a stepping stone to. It is very important to get back on this winning ladder.
“I didn’t doubt that Darren would come back. You need the results now and again to confirm things and as much as we try to avoid being caught up with results you do need them every now and again to make sure you are on the right track.
“Darren has shown good form since before Christmas, when he was leading down in South Africa and he has probably the expectation of winning and maybe wanting it a little too much has gotten in the way of having four good rounds.
“This puts him right back in there and he will gradually move up the world rankings and come right back to the fore of the game.
“He has had not a great run in tournaments for a while with things just not happening for him and it looked as though in was going that way in Shanghai until he holed that putt on the 18th.
“Sometimes it just takes that break so that the next time he is in that position he is not as impatient and he is letting it happen rather than forcing it.”
Lee Westwood would be favourite to partner Clarke after their past successes, but McDowell is dreaming of a match made in heaven if he makes the side.
Gazing into the future, McDowell said: “Playing with Darren in the Ryder Cup would be dream stuff.
“There is nothing I would love better than to tee it up on Friday morning in the betterballs or the foursomes with Darren. That would be really special.”
Clarke is 28th in the European Points list and still nearly €400,000 behind 10th ranked Miguel Angel Jimenez with Faldo adding two picks
But Harrington and McDowell reckon Clarke will be bursting with confidence after finally getting his nose over the line thanks to that monster, 40-footer for birdie on he 18th in Shanghai.
After missing the cut, McDowell watched every minute of the action on TV in Portrush.
He said: “He is a classy player and it is back to see him back in the winner's enclosure where he belongs.
“He was been working very hard for this one and it does make it feel all the more sweet. I am sure he'd have given a few of his trophies back for just one this year and I'm sure he's over the moon.
“It's been an emotional rollercoaster with all he has been going through. His priorities had to change immensely in the last couple of years since we lost Heather.
“His boys have had to take a much higher priority in his life. He has had to become a Dad and golf has had to take second place.
“But there is no doubt that the desire to win has always been there and he has always worked hard. Obviously it has been a really tough time for him over the last few years.”
Written off by his critics last year, Clarke could have suffered a massive blow had he lost on Sunday.
But McDowell believes that winning will make Clarke a dangerous man, explaining: “It is always a blow when you throw a tournament away but I think the negative reaction he would have had would be nothing compared to the positive reaction he'll have from winning it.
“The confidence you get from winning is massive and I would expect to see more from him this year and I expect him to give the Ryder Cup team a real run now.”
Single dad Clarke admitted that his thoughts strayed to his late wife and their two boys as he came down the stretch in Shanghai.
But Harrington believes that he will have to learn to come to terms with those feelings if he is to push on and win consistently.
He said: “Unfortunately, it doesn’t do your golf any good thinking about anything unrelated to the game. These are things that Darren will have to battle with so he can keep his focus on the job.
“The win will certainly help his patience and he will take confidence in knowing that he can do it. But certainly as regards trying to focus on the golf, it is always going to be a constant theme in his life and he is going to have to deal with it.”