Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke during a question and answer session at the 2011 Irish Open in Killarney. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieWhen I checked with bookmakers William Hill on Monday, Paul McGinley was still favourite for the European Ryder Cup captaincy at Gleneagles in 2014. Despite all the talk about Darren Clarke, he’s still there.

A week has passed since the British papers began running the ‘Clarke for 2014’ stories (here, here and here).

And following Clarke’s positive comments on Gleneagles this week - the course he once questioned as suitable Ryder Cup venue - and his insistence that he has never ruled himself out of the running for the 2014 captainy, we’ll be checking regularly for changes to the odds.

Yet McGinley still clings to the favourite’s tag:

William Hill, 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy betting (Thursday 18 August 2012, 10.27am)

  1. Paul McGinley 2/1
  2. Colin Montgomerie 3/1
  3. Darren Clarke 5/1
  4. Paul Lawrie 8/1
  5. Thomas Bjorn 10/1
  6. Miguel Angel Jimenez 14/1
  7. Sandy Lyle 14/1
  8. Jose Maria Olazabal 16/1
  9. Benhard Langer 33/1
  10. Phillip Price 33/1
  11. Sam Torrance 40/1
  12. Nick Faldo 50/1

Ulsterman Clarke delivered some withering criticism of Gleneagles’ Centenary Course as a Ryder Cup venue when he played it for the first time in 2007:

“I think it is unbelievable they (the Ryder Cup committee) have chosen this course to stage the 2014 match. There’s only been one Ryder Cup in Scotland, in 1973 (Muirfield), and then they choose a course like this one.

“There are even two better ones here at Gleneagles. Scotland is the home of golf and we should not be playing on an American-style course; it’s beyond my comprehension.”

He has since changed his tune following changes made to the greens at the Jack Nicklaus designed course. And while it has long been the popular belief that Clarke had a preference for the Ryder Cup captaincy in the US in 2016, he has never publicy ruled himself out of the reckoning for 2014 and remains available for duty.

As he said this week in Scotland:

“I haven’t played here for a while, but after hearing about all the changes they have made to the course I wanted to come back and it’s a massive improvement.

“They have invested heavily with the SubAir system and the redesign of parts of the course. In the past the greens were very bumpy and full of heel marks because of the amount of rain you get. But with this system sucking the moisture out of them, they will be much better.”

As for the captaincy, Clarke said he would be honoured to be asked while McGinley took the high road:

Clarke last played in the event in 2008, but his return now is being linked to the fact that he is seen as a leading candidate – along with compatriot Paul McGinley – to be Europe’s captain in two years’ time.

Both have just been appointed along with Thomas Bjorn as three of Jose Maria Olazabal’s four assistants for next month’s match in Chicago and all three fulfilled the same role in the 2010 win in Wales.

“Is my hat in now? I think it’s a case of if the Ryder Cup committee were to ask me to be captain then I think it would be disrespectful to say no, wherever they asked me,” he said.

On the same subject McGinley, who has twice led Britain and Ireland to victory over Continental Europe in the Seve Trophy, said: “I prefer not to talk about that at the moment. I think we have to respect this Ryder Cup and respect this captain and I think it’s important we stay focused on that.”

Until recently, McGinley was regarded as the front-runner for the job following a second successive Vivendi Seve Trophy captaincy success in Paris in 2009.

He was praised for his skills a motivator and tactician by virtually every team member, including Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy said: “I think Paul would make a great Ryder Cup captain. He’s been one of guys on tour that I’ve gone to for advice if I’ve needed it and he’s always made time for me. When he asked me if I was available for the Seve Trophy I said, ‘I would love to play if you were the captain.’ That’s one of the reasons I played.”

McDowell said: “I think Paul would make a fantastic Ryder Cup captain. He’s very methodical in his preparation and he understands what players need and what players want.”

Even the current skipper, Jose Maria Olazábal, admits that McGinley is a leading candidate for the job after watching him lead GB&I to another Seve Trophy win last year.

Speaking after last years’ Ryder Cup, the Spaniard said: “I think Paul in this case has the respect of all the players on Tour. He’s been here for many, many years. Why not?”

McGinley knows he cannot win a popularity contest with Clarke in the public arena and will be relying on his track record as a Ryder Cup player and captain of two winning Seve Trophy teams to pursuade the Players Committee that he’s the man for the job when it sits down in January to choose Olazábal’s successor.

He may already be regretting that he told the Irish Examiner’s Charlie Mulqueen in April that Clarke had written to him and promised him support in the 2014 captaincy race:

“By all accounts, Darren is going to be nailed on for 2016 after winning the Open Championship. He sent me a hand written letter after the Seve Trophy last year saying how much he enjoyed me being captain, how much I surprised him by how good I was and that beyond doubt, I would have his full support for 2014.”

It now appears that all bets are off and the Players Commmitte will be at the centre of attention in January.

Where their loyalties lie is open to debate. In the event of a two horse race, committee members Clarke and McGinley are likely to vote for themselves. How the rest see it, remains to be seen. After all, Paul Lawrie, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez are also being mentioned as potential captains in two years’ time:

European Tour “Tournament Committee”

  • Thomas Björn (Chairman) (Den)
  • Paul Casey (Eng)
  • Darren Clarke (N.Ire)
  • Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño (Esp)
  • Richard Finch (Eng)
  • Joakim Haeggman (Swe)
  • David Howell (Eng)
  • Raphaël Jacquelin (Fra)
  • Miguel Angel Jiménez (Esp)
  • Robert Karlsson (Swe)
  • Barry Lane (Eng)
  • Paul Lawrie MBE (Scot)
  • Paul McGinley (Ire)
  • Colin Montgomerie OBE (Scot)
  • Henrik Stenson (Swe)