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Sources: Clarke leaning toward Westwood, Kaymer, and Donald as captain's picks

August 29, 2016

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke isn’t scheduled to announce his three captain’s picks until Tuesday at Wentworth, but sources close to Clarke indicated that he may have already made up his mind and that he will likely choose Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

“Darren wanted more experience seeing as he has five rookies already on the team,” one of the sources said.

Clarke would certainly get that from the trio of former world No. 1s. They have a combined 16 appearances in the biennial matches between them, with Westwood leading the way with nine.

Westwood has also been in relatively good form of late with five finishes in the top 15 in his last nine starts, including a runner-up at the Masters. He has also been a Ryder Cup stalwart and is immensely popular in the team room.

Kaymer, meanwhile, has finished in the top 15 in seven of his last nine starts. Though he hasn’t had a serious chance of victory during that span, he has performed well and is a two-time major champion. He also made the clinching putt four years ago at the Miracle at Medinah as Europe staged a historic final-day comeback to retain the Cup.

Donald, meanwhile, might seem a bit more perplexing given his results. Outside of a runner-up at the Wyndham Championship two weeks ago, the 38-year-old Englishman who was passed over two years ago hasn’t sniffed a top 10 since last fall when he was also runner-up at the RBC Heritage. But like Westwood and Kaymer, he brings a wealth of experience having been a member of four winning teams, played more than respectably in those matches, boasts a very good short game and is likewise an easy fit with teammates.

“It’s gonna be difficult,” Rory McIlroy said of the selection process. “Darren’s got some decisions to make.”

Those decisions would include leaving Russell Knox and Thomas Pieters off the team should he indeed pick Westwood, Kaymer and Donald, despite the two would-be rookies having won recently.

Knox’s victory earlier this month at the Travelers Championship was his second in the last eight months and had he been a member of the European Tour when he won in Shanghai last November would have qualified for the team on his own. The Scot is also ranked in the top 20 in the world and is in the top 10 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings.

Pieters, meanwhile, won in Denmark on Sunday and in the process possibly muddied the picture and gave Clarke something to think about. The Belgian has finished 1-2 in his last two starts and was fourth at the Olympics. He also finished third in Thailand and second in Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

But neither has ever played in a Ryder Cup and this year’s matches will be a road game for Europe when they’re contested at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

“It’s different having a rookie at home than it is having a rookie away,” McIlroy said. “Danny Willett is the Masters champ but he’s still in for a rude awakening when he stands on the first tee on Friday morning at Hazeltine. It does feel different.”

Still, it can be argued that having experience is overrated. The only U.S. victory in the last seven Ryder Cups was in 2008 when Paul Azinger’s squad featured six rookies. Two years later at Celtic Manor, Colin Montgomerie’s winning European team also had six players who had zero Ryder Cup experience (although Kaymer, a major champion that year, and McIlroy, who led the Masters through the first 54 holes that spring, were among them).

No matter what names Clarke announces on Tuesday, the choices won’t have been easy. And given Europe’s record in the last dozen Ryder Cups -- 10 wins and just two losses -- they can seemingly do no wrong.

“You’ve got two guys who are pretty much set to be included I think,” one source said, referring to Westwood and Kaymer. “Then you could toss four or five other names up in the air and pick one of them and everyone would be happy with it.”