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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Guessing Darren Clarke's Picks

By the time most of you read this, Darren Clarke will have made his three Captain's Picks for the Euro Ryder Cup team. But I'm writing this several hours before the picks, so let's see how close I can get to reading his mind.

Darren Clarke with Ryder Cup trophy

As I see it, Darren has roughly SEVEN potential picks to choose from. His automatics gave him four returning players and five rookies. I know the talk that Darren has too many rookies, but I disagree and here's why:
  • You can only play four pairings at one time, and Darren has four solid veterans. That means he can do veteran/rookie pairings for every doubles match if he needs to. If Darren takes only one more veteran in his picks, he gives himself the ability to rest one veteran each round. Since these guys are used to going five matches, that's plenty.
  • The four veterans he already has are proven partnerships in and of themselves. Rory and Sergio have played well in the past, as have Stenson and Rose. Picking just one more veteran allows Darren to play his two proven teams, one veteran/rookie pair and then two rookies together. He can mix those up with the four veteran/rookie pairings I mentioned earlier to give the US new looks each round.
  • And you also have to remember that the Ryder Cup is no longer the only team competition in town. With events like the Seve Cup and the EurAsia Cup, most of the Euro players have some team experience. That takes some pressure off Darren's potential pairings.
When you take those things into account, you realize that Darren doesn't have to take three veterans as his picks. Likewise, he has enough rookies that taking three rookies probably isn't desirable either. That means he'll likely take either:
  • two rookies and one veteran, or
  • two veterans and one rookie.
Which brings me back to my seven likely choices -- two rookies and five veterans. Here are the rookies:
  • Russell Knox has two wins on the PGA Tour this season, one of them just a couple weeks back at the Travelers. The other is the WGC-China early in the season. But he's also got a couple of runner-ups and four more Top25s. Overall, I think he's been the most consistent of Darren's possible rookie picks.
  • Thomas Pieters doesn't look all that impressive until the last month. His performance at the Olympics (T4) was nothing short of amazing for a player unused to the limelight, and he's capitalized with a runner-up and a win since. He's clearly the hottest of Darren's possible picks.
And here are the five veterans:
  • Lee Westwood is Darren's close friend and most think he'll get a pick because of that. To be honest, I don't think Lee has played that well this season. However -- and this is important -- stroke play success (or the lack thereof) doesn't always mean a lot in match play. Lee is probably the best teammate in Euro Ryder Cup history, he has shown that he can play with anybody and, like Mickelson, has proven that he can (usually) show up when the team needs him, regardless of his form going in. He has an 18-13-6 record.
  • Martin Kaymer is clearly the most consistent among the veterans Darren should consider. Over the last four months or so, Kaymer has six Top7s worldwide plus he played in the Olympics. With his Ryder Cup record is 3-2-1; one loss came in singles, one in fourballs.
  • Francesco Molinari is someone Tim Rosaforte has been saying for weeks is on Darren's radar. Francesco has four Top10s worldwide this season, including a runner-up at the Open de France, which had a strong field. His Ryder Cup record is only 0-2-1, although that half was against Tiger in singles.
  • Luke Donald is another player who's had an off season but you can't overlook his record. He's 8-2-1, with a weakness in fourballs. He's a perfect 6-0-0 in foursomes!
  • Graeme McDowell has one win early in this season and a T5 late, but he's been erratic the rest of the time. His Ryder Cup record is 5-5-2..
Darren has an abundance of riches from which to choose. So who would I pick if I were him?

I think the common logic is that Darren will take Westwood, Kaymer and Pieters. The logic is that, with five rookies, Darren needs Westwood and Kaymer to give the team more experience. Pieters is picked over Knox simply because he's the hot player right now. That gives the Euros six veterans and six rookies, which provides Darren with the ability to rest veterans if the rookies play well but put out several veteran teams if the rookies don't.

But if I were Darren, I'd take Knox, Pieters and Kaymer. Here's my reasoning:
  • Knox has not only been playing consistent golf, but unlike Pieters he plays regularly in the US. I would make the same argument for Kaymer. While Westwood has usually played well in the Ryder Cup, he hasn't played well in the US for quite a while. Remember, he tried moving to the US to see if that would help his game and it didn't work. He's back in Europe now.
  • I felt that Pieters pretty much locked up a Ryder Cup berth with his play at the Olympics. When you take someone as unused to the spotlight as Pieters and throw him into it, you learn a lot. I saw him play himself into contention, struggle in the third round then rally the final day and just barely miss out on the bronze. After playing under that kind of pressure, I think you have to see Pieters as a veteran, since almost everyone agreed that Olympic pressure was at least as harsh as the Ryder Cup.
  • These three players are well-known and liked among the Euros, but they are also playing very well. That combination of liked and playing well should give Darren more flexibility in his pairings.
  • Westwood is well-liked but not playing that well. If I were Darren, I'd figure out some way to get him into the team room; given his play as of late, that's where I think he would help the team most.
So that's my take. Today we'll see if Darren feels the same.

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