10/07/2014

The Europeans are still celebrating their Ryder Cup victory in Scotland, and they’re already plotting things for Hazeltine 2016. Colin Montgomerie recently named five players who he thinks could follow Paul McGinley at the head of Team Europe. Montgomerie is one of three former captains charged with selecting the next skipper.

“I think there are five main candidates,” Montgomerie said, “Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Darren Clarke.”

It’s an interesting group, highlighted by players still very much active in the professional game. Both Westwood and Bjorn played for the winning European side at Gleneagles Hotel. Bjorn earned automatic qualification to secure his first Ryder Cup spot since 2002.

Westwood, on the other hand, was a captain’s pick. He’s appeared in nine Ryder Cups in a row dating back to 1997. Still, Westwood will be 43 in 2016, and likely a candidate to make it ten appearances in a row. Neither is a likely choice to lead the Europeans.

Harrington is arguably the most curious name on the list, considering Montgomerie called them “main candidates.” The three-time Major Champion has struggled in recent years, battling both form and injuries. But he’s still only 43 years old, which, like Westwood, makes him a viable player at Hazeltine even if he hasn’t played at the Ryder Cup since 2010.

Furthermore, Harrington is one of the few Europeans who have performed poorly since the team started dominating the event in the 1990’s. He holds a record of 9-13-3 in six tournaments. Then again he is Irish. Maybe the Europeans will push their luck by replacing an Irishman with an Irishman.

Padraig Harrington

Jimenez is a popular choice because he’s a popular man. El Mechanico has made splashes in the United States and in Europe with his bizarre warm up routine, his affinity for fine wine and cigars, and some stunning results to boot.

Like McGinley – and Montgomerie – Jimenez has never won a major but that seems to be lower on the list of credentials for European captaincy. The 50-year-old Spaniard was an assistant coach on the 2014 team. Many thought he might be a captain’s selection.

Miguel Angel Jimenez

However, the language barrier might hold Jimenez back. He speaks English – which isn’t necessarily a requirement given the wide array of nations represented – but he’s far from fluent. It obviously worked this year, although he may have to wait a few more to get his chance to run Team Europe.

After all, his contemporary Clarke is the leading man in the club house.

The 2011 Open Champion garnered support to claim the captaincy this year. He was eventually bypassed in favor of McGinley, but Clarke still had voices calling for him in 2016. Now it looks like he’ll get the job he’s long coveted.

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The Northern Irishman was one of the most well-liked golfers on the European Tour during his playing days. With countrymen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell poised to return to international duty, there’s thought that Clarke would be the perfect man to lead them.

Whomever Montgomerie and company pick, if the last 20 years are any indication, they can’t go wrong.