Harrington looks to McIlroy to give Europe edge in "exceptionally tight match"

Harrington looks to McIlroy to give Europe edge in "exceptionally tight match"
 Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Captain-in-waiting Pádraig Harrington insists Rory McIlroy is key to Darren Clarke’s chances of leading Europe to a fourth successive Ryder Cup win.

Europe has won three in a row with WeeMac in the team and Harrington — considered a front-runner for the captaincy — reckons the Holywood star’s Tour Championship and FedEx Cup double puts Europe psychologically one up.

Insisting that in-form McIlroy is hell bent on being Europe’s strongman, Harrington said: “This time, Rory is wanting and being asked to step into that role as leader on the golf course. 

“We are hoping he will be THE leader on the golf course. We are hoping he will be the man. 

“Rory’s win last Sunday, it really does make a massive difference to us and he brings a lot of confidence with him and he desperately wants to back it up with a big Ryder Cup.”

Davis Love III picked Tour Championship runner up Ryan Moore as his final wildcard but as well as he played, Harrington sees last Sunday’s playoff as a big psychological blow to the USA. 

He said: “Psychologically, Rory’s win was important for us. Winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup definitely helps Rory and the team this week. 

“To have the guy who won last week and won the FedEx Cup coming in here is huge.”

Europe might have a formidable record with eight wins from the last 10 Ryder Cups but Harrington is taking nothing for granted and reckons luck could play a major role in the destiny of the title.

Looking for a little bit of magic to tip the balance Europe’s way, he said: “It doesn’t matter if we are confident or not. They are good but we are no fools either.

“And no matter what happens this week, it is likely to be an exceptionally tight match and it could come down to a good or a bad break at the end of the day. 

“We can only look after our preparation and get ourselves in a situation where we have given players the opportunity to play their best. 

“We do our best to set the them out there as well as we can and then hope the cards fall well.”

Referring to the magician who wowed the players earlier this week, he added: “We’d like Dynamo to be dealing those cards, the way he dealt them the other night. 

“But look, the Americans are going to be formidable opposition. We can’t expect everything to go all our way all the time. 

“On paper they are fantastic and Europe has to find a way of being a better team that their team. That’s it. 

“On the face of it that’s the challenge - that’s the question for the week. Can Europe make our team better than their team? 

“Individually, if you went on world ranking, you might look at it one way. It’s how you put them together, how they gel, how they deal with the ups and downs. 

“We haven’t had too many speed bumps so far this week but we have got to think there have got to be some.”

Danny Willett has been the centre of attention since the anti-American rant by his brother Pete came to light.

But with few comments from fans during a foursomes match that saw Willett and Lee Westwood take on Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia, Harrington said: “There’s been very little reaction.

“But you can’t really be judged on what your relatives say. Any normal person would understand that. It was a situation Danny had to handle and he handled it well. 

“We are delighted that the spectators are seeing it for what it is. They are very much in golfing country here and everybody sees that he can’t be held accountable for something somebody else said. 

“What his brother wrote wasn’t nice, for sure. But so far Danny has handled it well and the galleries have too.”

Clarke has also invested a huge amount of time in the captaincy and unlike Paul McGinley in 2012, he hasn’t gagged Harrington this time.

Banned from talking to the media two years ago, Harrington said: “My role is a bit more involved this time. There are no pods or anything like that. 

“My remit? Generally looking after everybody. There is plenty of overlapping in our tasks. Certainly a lot more discussion on what is happening and what’s going on.

“There is a lot of clarity on pairings. Nobody has played poorly since we got here. It has been going very much to form.”

Harrington is very much Clarke’s right hand man this week and he believes the decision to ask ruby legend Paul O’Connell to address the team on Wednesday worked well.

He said: “Paul was excellent in explaining how to balance playing for a team and still play your best as an individual and how the two of those go together. It definitely made sense to the guys. 

“People sometimes struggle to explain the team element and Paul did a great job of how you have got to have your own personal ego to try and play unbelievable yourself. 

“It was about saying, ‘Hey, I want to win five matches and play great,’ but also saying, ‘I want the team to win and play great. I want to do everything I can to help the team.’ It’s a combination of the two.”

As for his role as strategist, Harrington denied he was telling anyone what to do.

He said: “No, no, no. These guys know what they are doing. That’s one thing a vice-captain has to avoid, getting involved in how to play the golf course or what you need to be doing. 

“That’s the hardest part. Never mind not saying, ‘I’d have played the shot this way,’ it’s about not even giving the impression I’d have hit a different shot. 

“We are not here to judge these players. You are here to support them. I am not a player here myself this week.”

Much has been made of Clarke’s six rookies but Harrington is adamant that they are all playing well enough to play a major role.

He said: “The rookies have played well in practice. They have settled very nicely. As usual, the challenge is trying to get all the information out there.

“:There is a template that we are all working off. But it is not possible for that template to be as smoothly implemented as you would like all the time. That’s the nature of the Ryder Cup.

“In a perfect world you would tell a player when they are playing, who they are playing with, what time they are off. 

“You can give them all the information but clearly we don’t know that. There are lots of ways of working through it and sacrifices have to be made here and there but so far it has been very soild, especially from the players.”