By John Huggan
Abu Dhabi, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -- After all the talking, all the speculation, all the toing and froing, all the other names in the Ryder Cup frame, it took the European Tour's tournament committee only an hour to decide that Paul McGinley was the man they wanted to lead Old World against New at Gleneagles next year.
"But we are 100 percent behind this captain," said Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the 15-strong committee. "It was obvious very early that a consensus was forming. We had all listened to the players on tour and it was obvious who they wanted to represent them. In the end, it was a unanimous decision and we are all 100 percent behind him."
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Certainly, McGinley was pleased with the outcome. He arrived on stage for the late night press conference held in the Regal Ballroom inside the St. Regis hotel here with the widest of smiles across his expressive face. And the first thing he did was reach across and fondly caress the famous gold trophy, one that Europe has won in seven of the last nine encounters with the United States.
"I'm thrilled," he said. "It's a great honor to be chosen to lead the cream of the crop from what is arguably the strongest European Tour in history. I'm humbled to be sitting here as Ryder Cup captain and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go up against one of my golfing heroes in Tom Watson."
Certainly, it was obvious that the 46-year old Dubliner had the support of the vast majority amongst the tour's rank-and-file. So if the committee members took any account of that level of feeling -- and they did -- there was only ever going to be one winner.
Perhaps even more importantly, McGinley had the public backing of world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and three other key members of the 2012 team -- Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Luke Donald. Throw in the fact that Irishmen McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowery and Peter Lawrie all appeared during the new skipper's press conference and it is clear that Europe has perhaps never before had a more universally-popular leader.
"Common sense prevailed," tweeted the world No. 1. "Paul McGinley 2014 European Ryder Cup captain. Couldn't be happier for him. Roll on Gleneagles."
"I stand by what I said earlier this week," continued McIlroy. "And it would be great to see Darren Clarke get the job in 2016. I played under Paul in the Seve Trophy and had such a good time. He made us all feel so comfortable. He's the best captain I've ever played under."
Such an unprovoked recommendation did not go unnoticed by McGinley, who was noticeably and sensibly silent throughout the convoluted and sometimes near-farcical build-up to the committee's decision. "It's amazing what you can learn when you listen and don't talk," he said with a smile. "Besides, the players were speaking for me so there was no need for me to say anything. But I will say that Rory is in good shape for a pick if he doesn't make the team."
Cue yet another grin as wide as Galway Bay.
Three times a Ryder Cup player -- three times on the winning side -- McGinley memorably holed the winning putt at The Belfry in 2002 and twice served as vice-captain in the biennial contest, as well as twice led the Great Britain & Ireland side against the Continent of Europe in the Seve Trophy. It was there that he developed the reputation for thoroughness and attention to detail that undoubtedly contributed most to his selection.
Still, with only four European Tour victories on his resume -- he and Padraig Harrington also won the World Cup for Ireland in 1997 -- he does at first glance have the look of a diminutive David against the golfing Goliath that is the eight-time major champion, Watson. And yes, he is surely the least-distinguished player to land the role since John Jacobs in1981. But don't be fooled. McGinley was ultimately the right man for the job --ask almost anyone on the European Tour and they'll tell you so.
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