Clarke’s desire to add experience to a fresh-faced team could lead to Donald being named despite a world ranking of 64. Should Donald be selected ahead of Russell Knox and Pieters, it will be deemed a bold and controversial call by Clarke. However, it appears the success of Pieters at the Made in Denmark event on Sunday could sway Clarke’s thinking.
With Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood certain of two of the three wildcards, much speculation has surrounded to whom Clarke would also turn. Prominent in the Northern Irishman’s thinking is the level of Ryder Cup inexperience among those already in his team; five of the nine who automatically qualified will be rookies when taking to the course at Hazeltine on 30 September. Received wisdom points to the dangers of that, particularly for an away match.
Donald, a former world No1, played in the Ryder Cup events of 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012, with Europe winning on each occasion. The 38-year-old has been renowned as an excellent match player since his amateur days.
The overlooking of Knox and Pieters would trigger raised eyebrows and an element of criticism. Donald has not claimed an individual event since 2012, while Pieters has won three times on the European Tour in the past year. It can also be argued that Westwood and Kaymer adequately offset one rookie pick.
The Belgian’s most recent success came in Farso when he triumphed by a stroke. His late, firm case for Ryder Cup inclusion was thereby confirmed. Clarke had partnered Pieters in the opening two rounds of that tournament, with the captain understandably impressed by the 24-year-old’s power. Clarke’s decision now surrounds whether or not to gamble on another debutant as Europe seek to continue recent domination of the Ryder Cup.
On paper, Knox’s case is arguably the strongest of the lot. The US-based Scot is ranked 20th in the world – the sixth highest position for a European – and seventh in the FedEx Cup standings. Knox won a WGC event in Shanghai last year before he had made himself eligible for Ryder Cup qualification by joining the European Tour and proved that success was no fluke when lifting the Travelers Championship trophy this month.
However, Knox may not have endeared himself to Clarke during a recent interview where he stated the captain might have a moral obligation to select him. Knox also courted controversy by choosing a Challenge Tour player, Duncan Stewart, to appear alongside him for Scotland at this year’s World Cup. Paul Lawrie, one of Clarke’s vice-captains, was among those to question that move. Knox did not play this month in the Wyndham Championship, where Donald bounced back to form by finishing second.
Davis Love III, the United States captain, will name three of his four captain’s picks on 12 September. Love will then complete his team after the conclusion of the Tour Championship, five days before the Ryder Cup begins. Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, JB Holmes and Bubba Watson are among those who did not qualify automatically for the US side.
“I know Darren well and he is not sleeping much right now,” Love said on Monday. “It’s the most fun and nerve-racking time of being a captain. He got a lot of guys he wanted and has the luxury of picking players who are hot and veterans. I’m sure we are going to see some friends and names we recognise.”
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