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Jockeying for Ryder Cup captaincy

Defeat, the saying goes, is always an orphan while victory has many fathers and so the European Ryder Cup team are discovering.

There was a time when Britain and Ireland were regularly trounced by double-figure points margins in the biennial team event and only the incurably optimistic would have applied as skipper to take on the United States.

Not any more.

Europe's 18 1/2-9 1/2 battering of the U.S. at Oakland Hills, Michigan, last month was their fourth win in the last five matches and they were only denied a clean-sweep by an extraordinary final-day U.S. comeback in 1999.

Suddenly, the victorious European 12 have a list as long as your arm clamouring to take Bernhard Langer's position as captain, while the German ponders over whether to stay for an extra term in Ireland in 2006.

Meanwhile in the States, where possible candidates have witnessed the media pummelling of beaten 2004 U.S. skipper Hal Sutton, the silence from wannabe captains has been deafening.

Mark O'Meara, of Irish ancestry and best pal to Tiger Woods, was the pre-2004 match U.S. captain of choice for those in the know but he has offered not a word, pro or con, over the issue.

Only Woods, much maligned for his lacklustre Michigan performance, has spoken about the U.S. Ryder Cup leadership, saying he would not mind being a vice-captain.

In Europe, however, the European Tour's leading figures over the past couple of decades have been forming a not-so-orderly queue.

Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo, all former U.S. Masters champions, have used one-to-one interviews with British national newspaper writers to state their case.

The Ryder Cup is beginning to become the perfect recipe for the great and the good of both Europe and the U.S. to cap their careers with pictures of themselves hugging the trophy or being thrown by delighted players into greenside ponds.

The memory of Sam Torrance's 2002 success at The Belfry, for instance, will be fresh in the minds of Woosnam, Lyle and Faldo who are only a few years younger than the 51-year-old Scot.

Torrance enjoyed a title-laden career but never seriously threatened for a major in 30-odd seasons on the European Tour.

His skilful guidance of his Ryder Cup charges two years ago, however, forever concreted his reputation as a grand sage of the game and a position as a respected BBC pundit followed soon after.

Langer, who boasts a superior record to the Scot with two U.S. Masters green jackets, has already been given a similar standing now that the Ryder Cup icing is on his cake.

The match result can cut both ways, of course.

Mark James's decision not to blood his rookies until the final day of the 1999 showdown at Brookline, thus exposing his European team to a fatal last-day onslaught, was still being picked over five years later in Michigan.

Much fresher in the memory is the treatment of the hapless Sutton, described in last week's edition of Britain's Golf Weekly as "The Loneliest Man in Golf".

Just as potential European captains have been lining up, American golf writers have been forming a long queue to take pot shots at Sutton for everything from his opening ceremony speech to his choice of cowboy headgear.

As Sutton continually reminded everyone, hindsight is a wonderful thing in matchplay golf and only a few would have had the courage to have gambled much on his first-day pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson flopping so badly.

The Americans by nature do not take losing sportsmen or coaches to their hearts and Sutton is certainly wily enough to expect the flak now coming his way.

Europe's former captain Bernard Gallacher lost twice in the early 1990s only to return in 1995 for a famous victory at Oak hill but few see Sutton coming back for more punishment.

The U.S. Ryder Cup committee's main problem, unlike their European counterparts, will be to find a man with the trust of the players, requisite diplomacy and above all a thick skin to transform a group of talented individuals into a team.

O'Meara is the obvious man for the job but could not be blamed if he ignores such a poisoned chalice. Other possible candidates include former major winners Paul Azinger, Corey Pavin and Tom Lehman.

Not for the first time in their careers, Faldo, Woosnam and Lyle can thank their lucky stars for being in the right place at the right time. At least for the next two years.

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