Paul McGinley’s 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy hopes are in danger of going up in smoke. While Darren Clarke has promised not to rival the Dubliner for the job in Scotland, reportedly putting his ambitions on hold for 2016, cigar-chomping Miguel Ángel Jiménez is emerging as his biggest rival for the job.
The 48-year old Spaniard loves cigars, red wine and Cuban cigars. But he’d also love to skipper Europe and sources close to the Tournament Committee insist that he’s being seriously considered as the alternative to McGinley for Gleneagles.
“I would love to be captain in the near future, I will feel very honoured and privileged, and will try my best to be a good captain,” Jiménez said before winning his fourth cap and third Ryder Cup as a player at Celtic Manor in 2010. “I have been with four different captains and have learned from each of them.”
José María Olazábal will captain Europe in Chicago later this year and while appointing successive Spanish captains might seem unlikely, the consensus amongst those in the know is that it’s now or never for The Mechanic, who will be 50 when the 2014 matches come around.
Nick Faldo’s ill-fated leadership in Kentucky in 2008 changed the Ryder Cup captaincy thinking in Europe and it is now understood that no-one over the age of 50 will ever get the job again.
Only players who are close to the current crop of stars will be considered for the post and while McGinley has been an excellent Seve Trophy captain, much admired by all his players, Jiménez’s popularity and his longevity as a tournament player will be difficult to combat.
McGinley does not want to be seen to be openly chasing the skipper’s job for 2014. But he knows that Jiménez - who sits with him on the 15-strong Tournament Committee - is his biggest rival now that Clarke has won the Open and can ease his way to the 2016 captaincy in the US.
McGinley also knows he probably said too much when he told Charlie Mulqueen in Saturday’s Irish Examiner: “All I will say is that if it came my way, it would be a great honour not just for me but Ireland as well but there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and then. And there are a lot of people who would also make very worthy captains.
“It’s the players’ committee who make the decision and obviously I’m a member. It’s not an awkward situation, what happens is that I would step out of the room like Monty did when he was appointed.
“Miguel Ángel Jiménez is on that committee and he’s also going to have a big shout for 2014.”
Ireland has never had a Ryder Cup captain and a snub to McGinley, who is being hailed at home as a virtual shoe-in for the job, would create a major stir.
But the fact that the last of his three Ryder Cup appearance came six years ago is a disadvantage if it comes to a beauty contest with the pony-tailed man from Malaga.
While he won three successive Ryder Cups as a player and has shown himself to be a remarkably able tactician and motivator, McGinley’s last cap came at The K Club in 2006 while Jiménez has played on both the 2008 and 2010 sides.
As a media communicator, McGinley would also appear to have the upper hand But do not be fooled by Jiménez’s pidgin English. He is a master diplomat and one of the most popular players, not just in European golf, but in the world.
“He’s always the person who will walk across the room to say hello,” Tom Lehman told Jeff Williams in an excellent profile in Cigar Aficionado last year. “Not just once, but always. That says something about a person.”
There’s no doubt that Padraig Harrington would love to see his close friend McGinley get the captaincy, but you sense that he would have no objections if Jiménez gets the nod, not least because it would increase his own chances of getting the job in 2018 or 2020. After all, three Irish Ryder Cup captains in the space of six or eight years is unthinkable. But two Irish majors winners in Clarke and Harrington is not entirely out of the question.
Harrington and Jiménez made their Ryder Cup debuts as partnership at Brookline in 1999, halving their foursomes with Payne Stewart and Davis Love III on the opening morning.
“There’s only one golfer I know who is completely comfortable in his own skin and that’s Miguel Ángel Jiménez,” Harrington said at Celtic Manor in 2010. “As for the rest of us, we’re always battling our insecurities.”
The younger players idolise him. Graeme McDowell was paired with Jiménez on his Ryder Cup debut in 2008 while Rory McIlroy played with him in his first major, as an amateur at Carnoustie in 2007 and was greatly impressed by him at Celtic Manor.
But it’s not just Miguel Angel’s everyman qualities that McGinley must counteract, there’s also his playing record.
While the Irishman won just four European Tour events (the last of them in 2005) in a career that is rapidly drawing to a close through injury, Jiménez has had 18 wins, clinched top-10 finishes in all four majors and could yet contend for a place on Olazabal’s team for Medinah.
Both men are in action in this week’s Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea and while the Spaniard can be expected to win their battle on the fairways, it remains to be seen if he can win in the committee room when the 2014 captain is decided early next year. Watch this space.