European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke opted for a blend of experience and firepower with his three captain’s picks Tuesday.
In a news conference at European Tour headquarters in Wentworth, England, Clarke tabbed Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters to fill out the 12-man roster that will take on the Americans at Hazeltine on Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
The Europeans have won eight of the past 10 matches, but this year’s squad will look much different, with six rookies.
That’s one of the main reasons why Clarke chose former world No. 1s Westwood, who will be playing in his 10th Ryder Cup (20-15-6 record), and Kaymer, who made his fourth team in a row (4-3-3).
Westwood, 43, and Clarke, 48, have been close friends for years, but this pick was not nepotism – Westwood tied for second at the Masters, finished T-15 at the BMW PGA and was in the penultimate group at the U.S. Open. He's also two points away from matching Nick Faldo for the most Ryder Cup points all time. “He’ll be somewhat like the general on the team,” Clarke said.
Kaymer is winless this year, but he’s posted seven top-15s in his past nine starts. The two-time major winner also holed the winning putt in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.
"Lee and Martin were pretty obvious choices to me," Clarke said.
Most debated was the final pick, which went to Pieters.
Clarke intentionally was paired with Pieters at last week's Made in Denmark event, and in the opening round, the big-hitting, 24-year-old Belgian fired a 62 alongside his future captain. "One of the finest 62s I’ve ever witnessed," Clarke said. "He made it look very easy."
On Sunday, Pieters closed with 65, including three birdies in a row to finish, to win his third European Tour event in the past 12 months. No other player has won more during that span.
“I found it impossible to leave him off the team,” Clarke said.
Clarke's picks were first reported Monday by Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte.
The nine Europeans who qualified on points: Rafael Cabrera Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Chris Wood.
It’s a tough break for Russell Knox, who at world No. 20 is the highest-ranked European player that won’t be at Hazeltine. A full-time PGA Tour member, he broke through for two victories this season, but his WGC-HSBC Champions title last fall didn’t count toward the Ryder Cup points list; otherwise he would have automatically qualified.
"Probably one of the toughest phone calls I’ve ever had to make," Clarke said. "He’s played unbelievably well during the qualification period. Some people will say he deserves this position on the team."
Golf Digest reported Monday that Luke Donald was in line to receive the final pick, and sportsbook William Hill suspended all betting on the Englishman when his odds fell to 1/100. But it would have been a peculiar choice, considering Donald has just one top-25 worldwide since mid-April.
U.S. captain Davis Love III will make three of his four wildcard picks on Sept. 12, after the BMW Championship. The final selection will be on Sept. 25 following the conclusion of the Tour Championship.