England’s David Howell has been named as the final member of the selection panel to choose Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain.
The Englishman, who was a member of the victorious European team in 2004 and 2006, was nominated by the European Tour’s Tournament Committee at their meeting on Tuesday night ahead of this week’s Portugal Masters.
Howell joins the three previous European Ryder Cup captains, Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie and European Tour chief executive George O’Grady, on the five-man panel. His appointment raises the prospect of Thomas Bjorn, who made a third victorious Ryder Cup appearance at Gleneagles last month, having been vice-captain three times, entering the running to be captain at Hazeltine in 2016.
The Dane, as chairman of the Tour Committee, was widely expected to be on the panel but should he decide to throw his name into the reckoning he faces stiff competition.
Northern Irishman Darren Clarke is the early favourite and has the backing of heavyweights like world number one Rory McIlroy, nine-time Ryder Cup star Lee Westwood and two-time major winner Martin Kaymer. Kaymer, however, said last week the reason behind his thinking was that 2016 was too early for the 43-year-old Bjorn as he was playing too well.
The growing campaign behind Clarke also saw Graeme McDowell call for McGinley to put aside differences with the Ulsterman after their friendship cooled when Clarke supported Montgomerie for the Gleneagles captaincy. European Tour veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, vice-captain for the last two Ryder Cups, is also a contender and would have the backing of the miracle of Medinah mastermind Olazabal. It is expected a decision on the 2016 captain will be made early next year.
Meanwile, defending champion David Lynn is looking for some inspiration today as he returns to the scene of his last victory.
Since winning the Portugal Masters at the Oceanico Victoria Golf Club in Vilamoura 12 months ago, the 40-year-old’s best finish was joint-21st at the Omega European Masters a month ago. Lynn has juggled events on both sides of the Atlantic this season and that has contributed to him not performing consistently but he hopes familiar territory will help give him a kick-start.
“You see the shots you were hitting last year and relive those moments,” he said. “I am hoping there is going to be some sort of inspiration again to get me going this week. I suppose there is a little bit of extra pressure [as defending champion] but every week comes with its own pressure as you put pressure on yourself to perform week in, week out, so I’d like to perform again this week.
“I’ve not played an awful lot of golf this year. It is my 13th event in Europe so it is to be expected to find myself down the Order of Merit [he is 108th]. But this week if I can find a bit of inspiration from last year and crack on who knows, maybe I could go back to back [wins].”
Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, double Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal and former Open champions Paul Lawrie and Darren Clarke are in the field this week, as well as last week’s Dunhill Links winner Oliver Wilson.
On the PGA Tour, Jimmy Walker admits he finds himself in uncharted territory as a new season gets under way.
The PGA Tour’s “wraparound” 2014-15 schedule begins this week with the Frys.com Open at Silverado Resort in Napa, California – a title Walker will defend as it was his first victory on tour in his 188th start. That win sparked two others in quick succession, the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February, which virtually guaranteed his place on the United States’ Ryder Cup team.
While that experience at Gleneagles last month ended disappointingly, the 35-year-old has picked himself up and is ready to go again, although being the man to be shot at is a new situation he finds himself in.
“I’ve never been in a position on the PGA Tour to defend,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve been in position to defend anywhere. It’s nice to be in Napa. If you can’t enjoy this place, you need to get out of here. It’s always nice to start quickly and play well. I couldn’t have scripted it any better the first couple months of the season and it would be nice to do that again, obviously.
“I feel like I’ve got a good formula going but I’m always continuing to try to get better and looking at the stats for last year [to see] where can I improve.”
On the ladies’ circuit, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew will be one of the later starters today in the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.