The Times wondered about a McGinley-Clarke battle for the Ryder Cup captaincy just last Monday. Could it be McGinley v Montgomerie now?So Darren Clarke says he’s contemplating a Ryder Cup captaincy exit stage left to concentrate on his career. It’s also possible that he’s simply trying to save some pride in the face of a potential committee room defeat when the 2014 job comes up for discussion in Abu Dhabi next Tuesday. Even if Clarke follows through and steps aside, you can be sure that Paul McGinley won’t be uncorking the champagne just yet.

“Whenever I was initially mentioned I wasn’t playing very well,” Clarke told reporters in Durban, where a second round 68 in the Volvo Golf Champions gave some credence to his belief that he’s still got some gas left in the tank as a player and should be park his captaincy ambitions until 2016.

“I played much better at the end of last year and have been thinking long and hard about it all over the Christmas break,” he explained. “As much as I would dearly love to be captain this may not be my time.

“I won one of the biggest prizes in golf by winning The Open and I am exempt for another three years (in the Majors). If I was given the opportunity to do the captaincy I’d effectively be throwing two of those years away.

“I’m still wrestling with it. It’s a tough one for me, but to be honest with you, I want to play golf.”

Clarke was surely aware that he would be asked to give up a lot of his time when he threw his hat into the ring - officially - last summer. So why the sudden loss of ambition?

And why this new-found confidence in his ability as a player? Could two modest finishes in relatively weak events in Asia and Australia last December really have changed his mind about his form? You can only take him at his word.

Keen observers of his relationship with Paul McGinley will take some convincing that he is standing aside to do his former close friend and neighbour a favour ahead of Tuesday’s Players Committee meeting. Is it really possible that when the man to skipper Europe at Gleneagles in 2014 is decided, the Dubliner will stand unopposed, even by Colin Montgomerie?

Clarke is believed to be McGinley’s friend. But what kind of friend writes to another to say, “You were a brilliant Seve Trophy skipper. I won’t stand in your way for Gleneagles”, as Clarke did in 2011, only to go back on his word within months?

Many believe that Clarke, a magnificent Ryder Cup player and a major champion to boot, would make a fine captain. They may be proved right if he does stand aside this time and eventually gets the job himself in 2016 when Europe will gladly use his bonhomie to win friends on US soil.

He has buckets of experience, charisma in bundles and is loved by the masses for his “ordinary Joe” persona. Players respect him. Everyone believes they could go for a beer and a cigar with Darren and have a good time. He’d be tactically astute. If he were a brand of washing powder, he’d be “New, Improved, Woosie.”   

What hasn’t gone down well in some circles on tour is his battering ram campaign for the 2014 job which began within days of Europe’s comeback victory at Medinah.

The appointment of “Captain Clarke” was gleefully presented as a “fait accompli” by some of the English tabloids soon thereafter. Clarke was quickly forced to deny claims he’d been offered the job, either by the tour or one of its leading officers. It was a PR disaster and the campaigning stopped. Then, abruptly, Clarke appeared to change tack.

Around the time there was talk of a shuffling of personnel on the 15-man Players Committee that chooses the skipper, world No 1 Rory McIlroy re-iterated his belief that McGinley, not Clarke, should get the job in 2014. Clarke retweeted this without comment. No ironic smiley faces. Nothing.

Was this the moment he waved the white flag and decided that without the unanimous support of the 2012 team - Donald, Hanson, Poulter, McDowell, Molinari and Rose all backed McGinley to do the job before Clarke - he’d be starting off on unstable ground? It’s possible.

If that’s the case, he knew he’d be stepping aside when he mentioned Europe’s need to have a massive “presence” take on Tom Watson. Hardly the words of a man supporting McGinley.

Many believe he meant Montgomerie. Even Montgomerie believes he meant Montgomerie.  

Yet given the lack of appetite for a Montgomerie repeat, it seems almost too good to be true that Europe is about to elect McGinley, unopposed.

Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, one of the heroes of the matches at Medinah, made no bones about it when he tweeted: “I hope the tournament commitee next week don’t feel they have to match up our captain to Tom Watson. Watson shouldn’t influence our decision….. McGinley or Clarke for me…..  yes JMO [Olazábal] said it is one time job which I agree with.”

Ian Woosnam, never a huge Montgomerie fan, tweeted: “Monty campaigning already for RC does that mean the committee will change the rule again? Rule is no one over 50 and one time only.

“I think past captains should pick the next captain, there are too many player on the committee wanting the job, how can they be aloud to vote.”

Clarke says he must talk to McGinley, and Montgomerie, before he decides to step aside. Whether that happens and whether Montgomerie will then follow suit, remains to be seen.