'I played my best golf for about 18 months toward the end of last year,' the Ulsterman explained to the British publication The Sun. 'If they asked me to do it at Gleneagles (in 2014) it would be a difficult decision.'
After largely struggling on the course since his British Open triumph in 2011, Clarke showed glimpses of his former game at the tail end of 2012, including a tie for eighth at the Australian PGA Championship. He has been mentioned for months as a co-favorite for the 2014 captaincy along with Dubliner Paul McGinley, although 2010 captain Colin Montgomerie has recently joined the consideration largely based on comments made by Clarke last month that the European leader would need a 'huge presence' to oppose U.S. skipper Tom Watson.
In 2005, the European tournament committee announced two captains at once, naming Ian Woosnam the 2006 captain and at the same time handing the 2008 team to Nick Faldo. Many, including former captain Bernard Gallacher, believe a similar situation could play out next week with McGinley and Clarke.
'I would go for Paul at Gleneagles and Darren in America (in 2016) where he is very well known,' explained Gallacher, who served as European captain three times from 1991-1995. 'I think a twin appointment would be perfect. There is a precedent and it is a good way out when two players are in the running.'
What appeared to be a two-man race for many weeks became somewhat muddled with the re-emergence of Montgomerie. Henrik Stenson - who first added Montgomerie's name for the 2010 captaincy during the Scot's whirlwind nomination process - was rather tepid toward the notion of McGinley serving as captain in 2014, possibly paving the way for a second run for Montgomerie.
'Whether Gleneagles is Paul's only chance, I'm not sure,' Stenson told reporters this week in South Africa. 'There are a lot of other great European players who have not been appointed European Ryder Cup captain.'
The short list of contenders will likely not change in advance of the European Tour's tournament committee meeting Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. Despite the various reports circling, European bookmaker Betfair lists McGinley currently as their 5-6 favorite, according to the Irish Golf Desk. Montgomerie is next at 5-2, while Clarke is listed only slightly further back at 11-4.