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Smyth backed for 2006 Ryder Cup Captaincy

Pádraig Harrington stepped up the 2006 Ryder Cup captaincy controversy yesterday by publicly backing Des Smyth for the job and pouring scorn on claims that the position should go to the best man, whether or not he's Irish.

Harrington was commenting as he wound up practice for today's Deutsche Bank TPC of Europe, being played on the St Leon Rot course outside Heidelberg in Germany.

Tiger Woods, the world's top ranked golfer, is defending his title and also believed to be receiving his second straight $2.25 million appearance fee cheque to compete on the revamped German course.

It is Woods' inaugural appearance this year in Europe and his first since finishing well down in 25th place in last July's Open Championship.

After a superb third place result in last week's B&H International Open, Harrington's target this week in the ancient German city is to finish of ahead of the world's top ranked player.

"It's great that he is here because that means more world ranking points for all us and more prestige for the event and the Tour," said Harrington.

"If anybody beats him this week they would be very happy and I don't think there would be a single player in the field that wouldn't take finishing ahead of him at this very moment.

"I'm in the group right behind him the first two days which is the best place to be and not in front but come Monday evening I will want to be ahead of him on the leader board."

It was last Sunday that Jose Maria Olazabal stirred the 2006 Ryder Cup captaincy debate, suggesting the captaincy vote "should be down to the individual merits of the players being considered."

But Smyth, as one of four Irish candidates, strongly disagreed with the champion Spaniard, citing Ireland's rich contribution to the Ryder Cup.

Harrington is now not only supporting Smyth's stance but lending his voice to Smyth's captaincy claims.

"You could argue the point that because the 2006 Ryder Cup is going to Ireland it should not necessarily be an Irishman who captains the side," said Harrington.

"But the Irish have contributed so much to the Ryder Cup for something like 70 years, holing the winning putts and with players like Christy O'Connor Jnr having the most appearances up to Nick Faldo.

"So there's just no argument when you start talking about the Irish contribution to the Ryder Cup and Smythy is the only man for the job in 2006.

"He's playing with these guys week in and week out and they all respect him and the players on that team will know him.

"Without a doubt the 2006 Ryder Cup should have an Irish captain and Des is my man because he just knows the players so well."

Darren Clarke, meanwhile, is a doubtful starter after tearing a thigh muscle fishing. He suffered the injury on Monday when he bent over to unhook one of the trout he caught on the River Test in Hampshire.

After struggling through nine holes of practice yesterday Clarke went for treatment, was given the diagnosis and was told he was "extremely unlikely" to be fit enough for this week's event and "very unlikely" to play in the Volvo PGA championship at Wentworth, next week.

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