Clarke insists his support for Monty was misunderstood: "I wasn’t against Paul. I just saw options"

Clarke insists his support for Monty was misunderstood: "I wasn’t against Paul. I just saw options"

Forget the fact that their friendship was strained long before the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy race. Darren Clarke sat down the the Daily Mail in Florida and set about fixing what he sees as a misperception of the incidents that led to the further breakdown of his relationship with Paul McGinley.

The fall out with McGinley is back on the agenda because Clarke had a chat with the 2014 captain on the range at the Dubai Desert Classic. As elephants in the room go, it was crucial to Clarke's cause and European unity that he was seen to have healed those wounds.

It's true that the Dungannon native wrote to McGinley but only an optimist would bet they will ever be close again even if Clarke says he apologised to his former close friend, team mate and neighbour.

"Paul and I had a great conversation in Dubai," Clarke told Oliver Holt in the Mail. "We must have stood and talked for an hour on the range. He was giving me tips and advice about what he had done. We had a great conversation there and I apologised to him.

‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I have made some mistakes in my career. We have all made some mistakes. I held my hands up and I got things wrong. Just with what was going on around that time."

The source of the most recent fallout between the pair was their rivalry for the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy. Both wanted the job but McGinley eventually outmanoeuvred Clarke, who had stood up at a PGA lunch in December 2012 (a month before the captain was selected in Abu Dhabi) and said that with Tom Watson handed the US captaincy, Europe needed a major figure too.

"Maybe we have to consider other people as well," Clarke was quoted as saying. "Whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence. We seriously need the right man for the job. We do have an unwritten rule where we don’t ask anybody to do it again, but we might have to look at that.”

Clarke clearly meant Montgomerie and while he was still in the running for the captaincy himself. at that time, he knew the writing was on the wall as far as support for him in the committee room was concerned.

He was already hinging that he was looking more to Hazeltine and eventually withdrew his name from the hat when it became clear that McGinley was the man with the votes. Then Rory McIlroy took a Ryder Cup question at the launch of his Nike deal, was asked if he thought McGinley would be a good choice for the captaincy later that week. Checkmate.

While Clarke was not quoted in the media as mentioning Montgomerie by name, he claims in today's Mail that his words were twisted and the wrong impression given.

"Did I support Monty that much? No. I was just trying to do what I thought was the right thing for the team. I wasn’t against Paul. I just saw options.
"I got accused of all sorts of bits and pieces, which were incorrect at the time. There was no point in me saying a word because I wasn’t going to go anywhere with it. All I was concerned about was doing the right thing for Europe and things got twisted and taken out of my hands."

The clash of Clarke and McGinley is just a distraction here though it speaks volumes about both men. That the less successful player could so ably overcome Clarke's "popularity" to get the support he needed told you all you needed to know about his tactical nous and Clarke's.

Still, the Mail insists that writing to McGinley and intoning the mea culpa is a good sign:

Clarke deserves plenty of credit for moving to put things right with McGinley. To be able to admit a mistake is a promising sign in a leader and the Northern Irishman possesses other qualities that bode well for his attempt to retain the trophy in Minnesota in the autumn.

In setting out his stall in the British media for 2016, it's clearly important for Clarke to be seen to be fair to everyone and that means keeping Lee Westwood at arms length, according to today's Mail.

Clarke knows he will face tough choices. Others have already wondered aloud whether he might be tempted to offer preferential treatment to old pals like Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter if they fail to qualify automatically for Hazeltine and need to rely on being among Clarke’s three wildcard picks. Clarke snorts with contempt about that idea.
‘An old pals’ act?’ he says. ‘How could I possibly do that? The Ryder Cup is much, much more important than an old pals’ act. That does not happen. Under no circumstances would I let myself... that’s not going to happen. No chance.
'I would have no problem with saying to Lee I was picking a rookie instead of him for a wildcard. Lee would be my best mate but I would have no problem. Why? Because it’s for the team. It’s not individuals. You have got to manage individuals’ egos but the team is there together.

It promises to be an interesting summer for Ryder Cup watchers.