The match at the K Club saw Ian Woosnam captain Europe to a record-equalling winning margin in an encounter which was especially emotional for one particular Irishman
The 2006 Ryder Cup would be at the K Club and Ian Woosnam had been appointed Europe’s captain for it.
Bernard Langer had captained Europe to a record victory at Oakland Hills two years earlier, so Woosnam had a lot to live up to.
The Welshman had chosen three vice captains to help him. “You need vice captains who are on the same lines as you,” he explains.
“So I had Peter Baker, a very close friend; Sandy Lyle, who I had been playing golf with since we were teenagers in Shropshire and, as I wanted an Irish person in there for a match in Ireland, Des Smyth. I’d known Des for 30 years.”
Often some of the vice captains are selected with an eye to them gaining experience for becoming captain later on, but none of this trio looked likely future captains.
“It is very important to pick with a view to the future, but how many captains will there be?” reasons Woosnam.
“There are only so many you can have. Sandy Lyle should have been a captain – he was a double Major winner. Paul Lawrie was another Major winner to lose out.
“But someone’s always going to miss out on Ryder Cup captaincy. You can see Poulter will be a captain, Westwood too – but, again, this means others will not be.”
Ryder Cup wildcards
The next selection Woosnam had to make was his two wildcard picks.
Irishman Darren Clarke, who had just lost his wife, Heather, “was always going to be my first pick,” remembers Woosnam.
“He was playing exceedingly good golf. I asked him and he said could I give him a few days to think about it. Luckily for us, he accepted.”
As to his second pick, Woosie still had not made his mind up when he went into the press conference called to announce his choices.
But he had narrowed it down to Thomas Bjorn or Lee Westwood.
He plumped for Westwood: “I just thought about who would be the best player to play with Darren Clarke. Lee and he were big friends.
“No disrespect to Thomas, but he had had a couple of meltdowns playing at the K Club and as a team player Lee was a little bit higher than Thomas really.”
“Picking Lee Westwood was was one the biggest and better moves I made – and I made some good ones,” reflects Woosnam.
“He flowed so well with Darren Clarke as a partnership, winning two out of two together. He then won his singles as well.”
In fact Westwood went through the 2006 Ryder Cup undefeated and his four points was, along with Sergio Garcia, the most by any player on either side.
Harrington and Montgomerie led off for Europe in the 2006 Ryder Cup in the morning fourballs.
They were the only European pairing to lose, to Woods and Furyk.
Casey and Karlsson, out second, halved with Cink and Henry.
The Spaniards Olazabal and Garcia beat Toms and Wetterich 3&2, and Clarke and Westwood finished 1 up on Mickelson and DiMarco.
Woosnam admits to having had concerns over his third pairing.
“Because the course was wet and playing so long I wondered if I should put a longer hitter with Garcia.
“But I went with the Spanish pair as I wanted Sergio to perform at his very best, and I wanted Sergio to fetch the best out of Olazabal as well. And it worked.”
The Spanish pairing were to win both of their fourball matches.
The first three afternoon foursomes were all halved – Harrington/McGinley versus Campbell/Johnson; Howell/Stenson versus Cink/Toms and Westwood/Montgomerie against Mickelson/DiMarco.
In the final game, Donald and Garcia triumphed against Woods and Furyk.
The Saturday followed much the same pattern as the previous day for the Europeans.
Indeed, all the first four sessions were won 2½ to 1½ by Europe.
Three of the fourball pairings Woosnam put out were the same as on the first day.
The only change was Stenson replacing Montgomerie as Harrington’s partner.
In the foursomes the sole change was Casey instead of Stenson partnering Howell.
“I had it all so organised that I didn’t have to wait to when we finished our matches as I knew instantly who would play the next round,” says Woosnam.
“I had been putting the pairings together for two years near enough – it changed every week! – so I had a feeling of who was going with each other.”
Sergio Garcia had won all his four matches and all three vice captains felt he should be first out in the final day singles.
Woosnam explains his relationship with his vice captains: “When we did the pairings, the order of play, or whatever we all talked together but it was mainly my choice.
“But you need good friends around you who can say ‘that is not the right choice’. The three guys wanted Garcia to lead off, as they thought he was playing the best. But I wanted Monty as he was our leader.
“I put Garcia second. He played Stewart Cink who was something like 9 under after 15 holes. And Garcia got hammered – and he was about 6 under par himself!”
Monty won his match.
Garcia was the form man for Europe, as Tiger Woods was for America.
Woods was sent out fourth and he beat Robert Karlsson 3&2.
This was to be one of only three away wins in the singles – Scott Verplank taking the anchor match 4&3 against Harrington being the third.
The European captain admits on that final day: “I just couldn’t work it out – there is so much blue on the board but all you can only see the red! But DJ Russell was driving me round and said to me: ‘we’re pissing it, we’re pissing it’.”
Clarke’s plight had struck an emotional cord with the public and he was given a noisy reception as he went round the course.
“It was like an 80,000-seater stadium around one tee box,” his singles opponent, Zach Johnson, remembers.
“But frankly, it was like that on every tee box for him.”
Darren Clarke had been sent out seventh.
“We tried to put Darren in a position when he could have the shot to win the Ryder Cup on his home soil,” explains Woosnam.
“We missed it by about three minutes I think. Henrik Stenson holed a putt just before it.”
“But after Darren won his game,” recalls Woosnam, “I gave him a hug and said to him: ‘This was destiny for you Darren. She’d be looking down at you loving every minute of it.”
Another Irishman, Paul McGinley, was still out in the course.
His match was one of only three which went to the 18th hole.
A streaker got on the green as JJ Henry was lining up a 25ft birdie putt to halve the match.
McGinley explains that he discussed with Des Smyth whether he should concede the putt in these circumstances: “Des was non committal. Then I noticed the streaker was running around JJ as he lined up his putt. So I conceded JJ’s putt and called the match a half.”
McGinley admits that “I did not know at the time that if JJ had missed it would have been a record win for Europe. But I stand by my decision.”
At the time Woosnam joked with the press that “I will have a word with Paul later!” about his generous, but sporting, gesture.
Many years later, when I mention this concession, Woosnam just groans and says “He is not my favourite player!”
American captain Tom Lehman was left reflecting in the aftermath of the defeat that “I don’t know if any European team has played better in the history of The Ryder Cup.”