Ryder Cup captaincy storm as Thomas Bjorn option branded 'a joke' by rival candidate
As if Europe’s Ryder Cup campaign was not in enough of a mess after Henrik Stenson’s firing as captain on Wednesday, a major-winning candidate to replace the Swede has called the likelihood of Thomas Bjorn stepping up a “joke”.
Paul Lawrie was one of four candidates considered by the selection panel to be Padraig Harrington’s replacement before Stenson was chosen over the Scot, alongside Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson.
However, Stenson was dumped on Wednesday after breaking his contract by signing a £40 million deal with the Saudi rebel LIV Golf Series, sending the DP World Tour - formerly European Tour - into turmoil and hurriedly searching for a new man to take the reins for next year’s match in Rome.
Bjorn, the victorious 2018 captain, has been mentioned at Wentworth HQ as the ideal strong character for such a difficult situation, with key figures pointing out that the Dane was Stenson’s vice-captain and has been involved in the planning for the biennial dust-up in 14 months' time.
But Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, vehemently objects to the notion. “The process is the process,” he said at Gleneagles, where he is playing at the Senior Open. “My situation has not changed, I assume they just go back to the way they did it before, with the five guys voting on the other three people who were up for the job initially.
“I’m led to believe that might not be the case. And if it’s not the case then it’s a joke, to be honest.
“You hear Thomas' name being bandied about now. I don’t see how that can be the case. He’s voting. How can you get the job when you are voting? Now that Henrik is out of the picture, surely the same five people vote for the three who were up for the job in the first place.
“You can’t change the rules. The process is the process. Let’s see. It’ll be fun and games if it’s not, I’m telling you.”
Bjorn was indeed on the five-man panel - along with Harrington and 2016 captain Darren Clarke - but sources say he will recuse himself if he is in the frame.
Clarke is unsure if there is any need for the selection panel to reconvene and there is a growing sense that it could simply be left to Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, and Ryder Cup director Guy Kinnings. The pair would also take into account the views of the former captains and of the present players, most notably Rory Mcilroy.
However, Lawrie’s comments are certainly an added complication that piles further pressure on Pelley and his board as they desperately try to steady the ship after such an unprecedented few days.
For his part, Bjorn is pleading for cool heads. “I’d like to digest it before I have anything to say,” he said. “There’s just so much to think about. It’s emotional and I just want to digest it all. Was it a shock [Stenson leaving]? Nothing shocks me at the moment if I’m going to be honest. We’ve got time and it’ll be sorted. But I just think we all need to deal with what’s right in front of us now. Just kind of breathe a little.”
Lawrie shot a 69 and Bjorn a 67 as Canadian Stephen Ames and American Glen Day grabbed the first-round lead at the King’s Course with a pair of six-under 64s.