by Paul Mahoney
Paul Casey has handed Darren Clarke a massive boost as he looks to lead Europe’s Ryder Cup defence next year.
The in-form Englishman’s availability to play under captain Clarke at Hazeltine had been in doubt.
But the pair met at Augusta during The Masters and Casey said: “There’s a massive fire burning in me to be part of the Ryder Cup again. I’ve spoke to Darren about it.”
Earlier this year, Casey resigned from the European Tour after he and his new wife Pollyanna decided that he should live and play full-time in America.
Casey has yet to reveal when he will rejoin the European Tour but he will have to play at least 13 events on this side of the Atlantic to qualify for his first Ryder Cup cap since playing in the defeat at Valhalla in 2008.
If he can maintain his current form, the world ranking points he gains in America will help him qualify for Clarke’s team and his fourth Ryder Cup cap should be a formality.
In the build-up to Augusta Casey produced three top ten finishes in five events, including filling second place at the Northern Trust Open.
And Clarke must have been impressed when Casey finished tied for sixth in the year’s first Major.
Talking about the way he played, Casey said: “I haven’t done that in a long time, not since Tiger was taking courses to pieces.
“It’s impressive stuff. I feel like I’m firing again the way I used to, so with some good world-ranking points here I’m moving in the right direction.
“The three Ryder Cups I played in were wonderful, but I wasn’t going to make the last two with the golf I was playing.
“It was brilliant to watch the last two at Gleneagles and Medinah and I desperately want to be part of all that again.
“I think I can play a major role in the team. I’ve already talked to Clarkey about it. I’ve told him I will be a part of it. I will be there.”
Clarke has urged the 37-year-old Casey to rejoin the European ranks before the May 1 deadline this year and is clearly keen to have him in his line-up.
“From a team point of view I would love him to rejoin the European Tour,” Clarke said. “He wants to. It’s great to see him back. He would be a strong contender with the form he’s in. He would be a benefit to the team.”
Casey played the final round of the Masters in the company of his friend and Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter. Making Clarke’s team was at the forefront of their on-course chat.
Poulter has been struggling with his form but took his opportunity to impress Clarke in the third round, playing with the Ulsterman to shoot a five-under-par 67, his best ever score at the Masters.
“It’s the best I’ve ever seen him play,” Clarke said. “It was 67 but could’ve easily been 63. Poults is playing beautifully.” He tied with Casey at nine under par in the Masters. “Whenever the guys are playing well, it makes my job easier,” Clarke said.
Poulter, too, was talking like a man determined to do everything to make Clarke’s team, saying he simply loves the Ryder Cup and thrives on its matchplay formula.
“I think he’s going to be a great captain. I know Darren very well. We know his record in the Ryder Cup, we have seen him as a vice-captain. When you know that, when you know about his attention to detail and his OCD, you know that he is going to go that extra mile to bring the trophy home on Sunday night.”
Poulter added that Clarke’s personality will play a huge part in next year’s battle with the Americans. “He knows all the players very well. He is going to be under a lot of pressure, given how successful European captains have been for the last 14 years, so he will want to maintain that good run.
“But he will deliver. It’s whether the players are able to deliver for him.”
Poulter is called ‘The Postman’ by his team-mates because he always delivers in the Ryder Cup. Expect him to be in the team with Casey and embracing the challenge of a boisterous American crowd.
“Ryder Cups are always explosive. We have seen a lot of passion, a lot of fan craziness. I wouldn’t expect 2016 to be any different and it’s even more rewarding when you win away.”
*This article was originally published in The Golf Paper’s 2nd edition on 15 April 2015.