By Tony Jimenez
LONDON (Reuters) - Phillip Price feared a mismatch when Europe chose Paul McGinley as captain to take on U.S. counterpart Tom Watson in next month's Ryder Cup but the Welshman said his initial concerns have been totally dispelled.
McGinley's modest playing record, and his overall standing in the sport, cannot compare to that of eight-times major winner Watson.
But Price, who caused a major shock by beating Phil Mickelson in the last-day singles in the 2002 edition at The Belfry, has been so impressed with the genial Irishman that he believes he could turn into an inspired selection as skipper.
"I initially felt there might be an awe factor, I felt it was not a good matchup," Price told Reuters in an interview. "I think he's been fantastic though.
"I've listened to him a lot on TV and he's come across so well. He's very thoughtful, he seems to have thought about the Ryder Cup an awful lot and every question that's thrown at him, he's always got a good answer."
Four-times European Tour winner McGinley holed the putt that won the Ryder Cup in 2002 but Price says next month's matches against the Americans at Gleneagles in Scotland could end up defining his career.
"I think this is his major and he's planned really well," explained the 47-year-old.
"This is it for him. I can imagine he's going to be more prepared than any captain there's ever been.
"One of my former caddies has been working for him and he says no stone has been left unturned in terms of preparation.
"I get the feeling he's thought about this for a long time and is ready for every angle, the pairings, the weather, the preparation."
Price, who has won three times and is still an active player on the circuit, said a meeting at Tour headquarters at Wentworth early in the captaincy selection process should have told him all he needed to know about McGinley's popularity.
"When the tour players were here for a meeting to talk about picking the next captain I was stunned by how many wanted him," he added.
"They've twice seen him working as a Seve Trophy captain, and as a Ryder Cup vice-captain, and they were all pushing for him. The players were talking about him and Colin Montgomerie and the amount of support for Paul was astonishing.
"Monty wasn't ever in the reckoning. The team also seem to hold him in very high regard," said Price who was talking to Reuters at Tony Jacklin's Wentworth Charity Invitational golf event in aid of Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People (www.rainbows.co.uk).
"When he was eventually picked as captain all the players from the team had been phoning and tweeting their support for Paul."
This week's Italian Open, the final qualifying event, will determine the automatic nine selections in Europe's team before McGinley rounds off his 12-man lineup by announcing his three wildcard picks at Wentworth on Tuesday.
World number 16 Graeme McDowell is not playing this week and will be replaced among the top nine automatic slots by Stephen Gallacher if the Scot finishes first or second in Turin.
"I think we've got three obvious picks - Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald," said Price. "But, concerningly, none of them are playing very well, they're all struggling.
"Stephen is probably next on the list. He needs to do something this week, or someone like Francesco Molinari needs to win, to change things.
"G-Mac is an automatic pick and Steve has to deliver something this week. If he finishes in the top five in Italy he may be picked because he's got a phenomenal record at Gleneagles.
"I think Poulter will definitely get a pick and that Donald is struggling the most. Looks to me like he's in the most trouble."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)