Luke Donald looks set to be named as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for the match in Rome next year after a ringing endorsement from current skipper Padraig Harrington.
The Irishman is part of the five-man committee who will make the appointment, as Europe look to bounce back from the battering handed out by the Americans at Whistling Straits last September.
Donald has moved into pole position after Lee Westwood, hitherto an overwhelming first choice, ruled himself out, with Henrik Stenson thought ready to follow suit.
Luke Donald is in line to be Team Europe’s captain at the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome
Harrington said that no date had been fixed to sift through the remaining candidates.
‘As players, we’ve certainly discussed who will be the next captain,’ the Dubliner admitted to Sportsmail.
‘It was assumed it was going to be Lee but I can see where he is coming from, he is playing good golf and he wants to concentrate on that. His decision certainly put the cat among the pigeons though, didn’t it?
‘All I can say is that Luke would be great. Behind the scenes he does a terrific job. His management style… he knows.
The Englishman has received a ringing endorsement from current captain Padraig Harrington
A former World No1, Donald played in four Ryder Cups between 2004 and 2012 for Europe
‘He’s got the experience, and I’d thoroughly recommend him.’
Former World No 1 Donald played in four Ryder Cups between 2004 and 2012 and was never on a losing side, claiming 10½ points from a possible 15.
In typically understated Donald style, he was a key performer at the Miracle of Medinah in his adopted hometown of Chicago in 2012 while claiming few headlines.
First man out in the singles, the underrated Englishman set the ball in motion for that unforgettable final-day transformation with a key victory over Bubba Watson.
Harrington said a date to determine the identity of the 2023 captain had not been set yet
More recently, the relatively short hitter has struggled to keep up with the bombers on tour, while also suffering from a succession of injuries, and has fallen outside the top 500.
Donald, 44, was part of Harrington’s backroom team in Wisconsin, a role he also performed in happier circumstances in Paris in 2018.
Thomas Bjorn, the captain on that occasion, is also part of the selection committee, alongside Darren Clarke, who did the job at Hazeltine in 2016. Completing the panel will be Keith Pelley, chief executive of the DP World Tour — formerly the European Tour — and David Howell, chairman of the players committee.
As for Harrington, four months on from the record defeat in Wisconsin, the scars have largely healed. ‘I would have loved to have won but there are no regrets, I wouldn’t go back and change anything,’ said the 50-year-old. ‘I’m comfortable with the decisions I made with the information at hand. I take comfort in the fact my players were happy.’
Team Europe suffered a humbling defeat at Whistling Straits in the Ryder Cup in September
The three-time major champion is eligible for all four Grand Slams this year and in position to pick and choose the best events on the regular and senior tours.
He still has the game to compete at the top level, and particularly in the sort of tempestuous conditions seen during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship yesterday, where he was one of only nine players to shoot under par, as he carded a gritty 71 for a level par halfway total.
‘If only the weather was always like this!’ he said mischievously.
‘I don’t putt well enough to shoot rounds of seven or eight under par these days but I can hold my own when it’s blowing out there and it’s a grind.’
Donald was a key performer for Europe at the Miracle of Medinah in Chicago in 2012
Donald (second right in back row) was part of the backroom staff in the 2018 Ryder Cup
Ian Poulter feels the same way, and his 72 left him just one off the lead held on seven under par by Scott Jamieson, from Scotland, as he seeks the victory that would get him back into the field for the Masters in April.
‘I enjoyed it out there in a sick sort of way,’ said the 46-year-old, with a huge grin.
No surprise either to see Shane Lowry prosper in the gale to be two behind, but Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy shot 74 and 75 respectively and have work to do on three over.