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Tuesday, 25 September 2012
European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal  (Getty Images)
European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal (Getty Images)

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  •  European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal with vice captain Darren Clarke
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  •  European Team captain Jose Maria Olazabal
  •  European Team captain Jose Maria Olazabal (L) chats with countryman Sergio Garcia
  •  European Team captain Jose Maria Olazabal
  • European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal

José María Olazábal was giving very little away on the first practice day of The 2012 Ryder Cup but Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell appear to be central to his early planning.

The Northern Irishman famously secured the winning point two years ago with the expectations of a team and a continent on his shoulders and his Captain is clearly looking for, and expecting, another huge performance.

“He's one of our main men, to be honest,” said Olazábal. “He loves this competition.  I think this competition brings the best in him.  He's a very gutsy player.  He will fight until the very end.  He will fight for every shot, for every inch.  And we saw that in the past.

“At Celtic Manor, he was last in that singles match on Monday, and I have to say that he was a little down on himself on Sunday night.  But as the match progressed that Monday, what he did was outstanding.  So that's why I said he's one of my main men.”

Likewise, the Ryder Cup brings the best out of Garcia and he has proven himself a great team player over the years in forging formidable partnerships with the likes of Jesper Parnevik, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Olazábal himself. Indeed, Garcia has never lost a foursomes match – winning eight and halving one of his nine ties.

With McDowell and Rory McIlroy expected to renew their Northern Irish partnership, was Olazábal testing another partnership for Garcia by putting him in the same group as Paul Lawrie? The Captain refused to be drawn on such speculation other than to say: “I've tried to mix a little bit of, not the same characters, but guys that I believe can complement each other and who understand each other really well, and that's why I put Paul Lawrie with the Northern Irish guys and Sergio.

“Sergio is a guy that gets close to everyone; he can play with anyone, and that is why I put Sergio with those guys and Paul Lawrie.”

And if he was identifying McDowell and Garcia as key members of the team, he had special praise for McIlroy.

“It's important to have the best players on your team,” he said. “Obviously we have the World Number One and he's playing great.  The way he's played the last few months, he's been outstanding.

“I would say that he is at this moment very close to how good Tiger was at that stretch of time between '99 and 2002, the way he's playing.  He's full of confidence.  He's got the whole game, and in that regard, it's great to have players like that on your team.”

Olazábal is sure to mix things up over the next few days as he works out his best pairings, but already the passion for the European cause is coming to the fore, a passion instilled by the first continentals with Seve  Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido paving the way, and carried on by the likes of Bernhard Langer and other passionate Spaniards such as José Rivero, José María Cañizares and Manual Piñero.

“We have a continent, and the friendship and the camaraderie that we have on our Tour is big and I think that that's why we are so passionate about this event.

“It gets us together once every two years.  We let our defences down for this week.  We try to get as close as possible to each other, and that's why the Ryder Cup is so beautiful.”

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