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Doing it with style
The suits of the golfing world are having things bad just now and it is not over yet. It could have been worse last week in California. It could have continued to rain but, worse than that, US TV could have been left with Nick O'Hearn and Chad Campbell in the Accenture World Matchplay final. It was bad enough having David Toms and Chris Di Marco in the final for the two have the viewing appeal of watching Tiger Woods wash his car or Phil Mickelson have a session of dental hygiene.

David Toms went six up on Di Marco after a stupendous run of seven birdies in 12 holes, but even that was not enough to hold interest. Toms was at one point nine up on Di Marco with 12 holes left to play in the last round but a late rally from Di Marco, to reduce his embarrassment to a 6&5 defeat, merely attenuated the viewers suffering. Without the 'consolation' game between Retief Goosen and Ian Poulter, this event would have been a debacle for the suits in the TV executive enclosure.

Poulter took Goosen to the 20th hole in his contest for third place and half-a-million US dollars. He lost, but in the process he hoiked himself from 41st to 32nd place in the world rankings. More importantly, he stamped his name in US golf consciousness and endeared himself to the US sports-viewing public.

America loves nothing more than a punky Brit unless it is a renegade Irishman. Ian Poulter and Pod Harrington will, understandably play more on the lucrative US Tour than they will in Europe this year - 22 US events against 13 in Europe. So too will Luke Donald, Paul Casey and David Howell, other Ryder Cup heroes. Brian Davies and Greg Owen could be classed as European Tour journeymen, but they have gone through the rigours of US Tour qualifying for a ticket to the US Tour gravy train. They help make up the contingent of 78 foreign players regularly competing in America compared to the 21 five years ago. These men are doing well for themselves in America, playing with some style and flair and are well rewarded for it. If this is not causing angst among the suits in the bowels of Wentworth, it will certainly be inducing reflections in the corporate boardrooms of the European Tour sponsors.

But the boys from Wentworth have other things on their minds as they pack their suits for Dubai this week. On Tuesday, March 1, the history of the Ryder Cup will be made or marred in a hotel room in Dubai when a panel meets to discuss the selection of Europe's 2006 Ryder Cup captain. The Wentworth suits may have their say but they are not likely to make much impression upon what should be a 14 man panel, but will effectively be made up of 10, who will collectively make the decision.

The selection of Europe's captain comes down to a decision made by 14 pro-golfers that make up the European Tour Tournament Committee. If ever there was an example of the cooks in the kitchen running the hotel, this is it. Jamie Spence is the chairman and he has lost his playing card. Jean Van de Velde of Carnoustie fame is the vice-chairman and he will not be present. Roger Chapman will also not be there and he too has lost his playing rights. Bernhard Langer, when he is most needed, will be absent in America, as will Darren Clarke. Those present will be Thomas Bjorn, Andrew Coltart, Joakim Haeggman, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, Mark Roe, Henrik Stenson and Robert Lee. With the exception of Jimenez, none are likely to be performing in Dublin in 2006 and, with the exception of Montgomerie, few have had much Ryder Cup exposure. Robert Lee makes his living as a TV commentator, leaving only six, or at the most secven panellists who could be described as regulars on the European Tour. We can only hope that they are open-minded, focused and objective in coming to a rational conclusion when weighing the relative merits of Ian Woosnam (pictured) and Nick Faldo as prospective candidates.

Woosnam and Faldo both have distinguished Ryder Cup records although Faldo's is marginally better. He has played in 11 Ryder Cups and has a 50% winning record out of 46 starts. Woosnam has played in eight Cups and has won 14 out of 31 games. If this is not enough to persuade the panel, they should consider Faldo's 43 tournament victories compared to Woosnam's 29 and, in case it has slipped their collective minds, Faldo has won three Masters titles and three Open Championships: Woosnam won the Masters in 1991.

Sam Torrance and Mark James have stressed their support of Woosnam and Faldo is probably not Montgomerie's favourite e person. Although Jacklin, Langer and Ballesteros have all spoken in favour of Faldo, he is not likely to get many votes from within a committee where he has long been considered an outsider. The simple fact is that Faldo was never much liked in European pro-golf. His abstemiousness, single-mindedness, dedication to fitness and winning was at odds with the pro-golfing culture of his time. In this respect he was ahead of his time for, to the modern day player, he is a role model: success today requires the dedication to a life-style regime that Faldo pioneered in Europe.

Woosnam may bring in the punters and throw the best party in Dublin, but can he captain a winning European team? Langer showed what was required in a captain for it was his demeanour and cool calculating brain that earned respect and won the day in Detroit. It is doubtful if Woosie has Langer's qualities and it is hard to see what special captaining qualities he can offer in compensation.

The suits at Wentworth know that if the European Tour is to go on attracting sponsorship it needs to maintain its credibility, if not its supremacy. To do this it must win, and win again the Ryder Cup with style - this simply means that the European Tour needs Nick Faldo to captain the 2006 Ryder Cup team.

©    28 - FEBRUARY 2005

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