If Jose Maria Olazabal has his way, Sandy Lyle will be named as Europe's latest Ryder Cup captain in the UAE in January.
Woosie's loss can be Lyle's gain
If Jose Maria Olazabal has his way, Sandy Lyle will be named as Europe's latest Ryder Cup captain in the UAE in January. That may come as a shock to Ian Woosnam and Welsh supporters waiting to give the Americans a welcome they won't forget in the valleys around Celtic Manor in two years time. But while Woosie, my old Welsh World Cup and Dunhill Cup skipper, is seen by many as the logical choice to take over from the heavily criticised Nick Faldo, Lyle can win the European vote if Olazábal finds a cure for his aching back.
Plagued by rheumatism for much of the year, Olazábal is the firm favourite to get the nod from the European Ryder Cup committee of Tour players and officials. They want to confirm the Spaniard's appointment early next year, either during the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship or the Dubai Desert Classic, although Olazábal still hopes he will be fit enough to challenge for a place in the team. Should he turn the captaincy down in the belief that he cannot tee it up against the US in Wales, it is likely to be offered to the former British Open and US Masters champion Lyle, largely on the basis that he is the only remaining member of the so-called Big Five of European golf - alongside Woosie, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Faldo - yet to have the honour.
The only obstacle is Lyle's laid back attitude. After Faldo's total eclipse by Paul Azinger at Valhalla, Europe can't afford another campaign undermined by bad planning and a failure to come to terms with the demands and pressures of the modern day Ryder Cup. Sandy needs to get his act together, round up a team of able lieutenants to help him plot the Americans' downfall, and present his case in a professional way to put the selectors' minds at rest, and remove any doubt that he's the right man for the job. He needs to find two men hardened by Ryder Cup combat, and a close friend he can trust from the Tour - the combination that worked so well for Azinger, who hauled in Raymond Floyd, Dave Stockton and his close buddie Olin Brown.
If Woosie is willing, he could join hands with the five-times Ryder Cup battler Ken Brown, to fill two of the vice-captain slots, leaving Lyle to complete the backroom team from his many friends in European golf. The captaincy was a hot topic during last week's British Masters, where Ken - put forward by some as another potential candidate to lead Europe - told me that instead he's putting his weight behind Lyle.
Sandy has put his name forward a few times previously, and this is basically his last chance. He is so understated and mostly stays in the background, which is why he isn't always taken seriously. The endearing image of Sandy Lyle is of him falling to his knees beside the 18th green during the last round of the Open Championship at Royal St Georges in 1985, when he fluffed a chip and thought he'd lost his chance of claiming the claret jug.
It's part of golfing history that he recovered to win, but he needed some convincing that week that he had what it takes to become Open champion. We'd both scored 68s in the first round, and I was practicing alongside him the next day when I heard him tell his caddie, Dave Musgrove, that he didn't think he was ready to win a major. I was amazed, and told him not to be ridiculous. I thought I could win, and wasn't as good or as experienced as he was, and told him he had to think he could do it.
Like the rest of the Big Five, he's done so much for European Golf, and getting the Ryder Cup captaincy would be a just reward. It would also leave the way open for Olazabal to take over in 2012 in the US, where he's enjoyed so much success, including two Masters triumphs, and is liked and respected as much as he is in Europe. By snatching at the chance to lead the Europeans into battle in Ireland two years ago, Woosie effectively kissed goodbye to his hopes of landing the job on home soil.
That was typical Woosie. Such a great talent as a player, he would go for everything without spending much time thinking about it, and because of his tremendous ability he was able to pull it off. As soon as he saw a chance of getting the captaincy in Ireland, he went for it. He did a brilliant job as well, but in the process he, in effect, turned down the chance to lead Europe in Wales. While he'd be a hugely popular choice, it would be unfair to dismiss Lyle, and I'd hate to see him miss out like another former European Tour stalwart, Peter Oosterhuis, did.
The captaincy needs to be shared around. Bernard Gallagher had the job for too long. Then Tony Jaclkin had it four times, but he was the one who turned things around for Europe. Until Jacklin came along, Europe were the poorer relations of the Ryder Cup. He flew the team out to the US on Concorde and made them feel they were important, and good enough to beat the Americans. That's the kind of inspiration Europe will need in 2010, something that was sadly missing at Valhalla.
Thomas Bjorn, an influential member of the committee, is certain to favour Lyle over Woosie, who ignored the great Dane in making his captain's picks two years ago. Thomas has told me that, while he's too young for the job at the moment, he wants it in future, and has already selected Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke as his vice captains. Lee has got a lot of Ryder Cup golf left in him as a player, as he showed at Valhalla, following up with a gritty performance at the Belfry which so nearly brought him a second successive British Masters title.
It was ironic that both Westwood, edged out by Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, and Sergia Garcia, pipped by Colombian Camilo Villegas at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, should both endure sudden death agony immediately following their Ryder Cup suffering. Regardless of the outcomes, here was further proof that Westwood and Garcia have the class and raw courage that Europe will need in abundance at Celtic Manor, whoever lands the captaincy.
Not being a betting man, I haven't checked the odds on Lyle, Woosie or Olazabal. But one thing I wouldn't mind wagering is that, if Azinger decides not to accept a second term in office on the other side of the Atlantic, Corey Pavin will step in. There isn't another name in sight. Philip Parkin, a former Tour player in Europe and the US, is a world-class golf coach now based in Florida, and a regular member of the golf commentary team for the BBC, European Tour Productions, Setanta Sports and The Golf Channel.