By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy wants fellow Northern Irishman Darren Clarke to captain Europe’s Ryder Cup team in 2016 in what is shaping up to be a battle between the former British Open champion and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Europe will seek a fourth successive win against the United States in Minnesota and speculation is already rife as to who will lead the defending champions.
“I'm going to be a little biased -- Darren is a good friend of mine and from Northern Ireland, so it would be great to see him get the captaincy, but if it was to be Miguel then I'd have no problems with that either,” McIlroy told a news conference.
“They are going to have a tough decision,” he added ahead of this week's Dubai Desert Classic.
On Tuesday, world number two Henrik Stenson and sixth-ranked Sergio Garcia, both team stalwarts, told reporters it would likely be a straight fight between Clarke and Jimenez over who will replace 2014 skipper Paul McGinley.
“I always thought Darren would be a perfect fit for captaincy in the States," said McIlroy.
"People love him over there and he'll do well, but people love Miguel anywhere he goes and the more he plays on the Champions Tour he's going to become more popular as well.
“They are both quality candidates and great players. As long as I'm on the team and they decide to play me I'm happy enough.”
Spain's Jimenez, 51, is ranked 42 and played 25 events on the European Tour last year. Clarke, 46, is a less regular figure on the circuit.
McIlroy said he expected to be consulted by the five-man panel that will choose the captain, a decision that used to be made by the players. The committee includes former skippers McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie.
World number one McIlroy will play in Thursday’s Classic, having finished second at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship two weeks ago, a stroke ahead of Martin Kaymer who blamed overconfidence after he blew a 10-stroke final round lead.
McIlroy has suffered in similar circumstances, squandering a four-shot final day lead at the 2011 U.S. Masters.
“It was the most important day of my career, bar none, because if I had not had that happen to me who knows where I would have been,” added four-time major winner McIlroy.
“You learn way more from those days than from victories.
"Martin had such a big lead that I can see where you could get a little bit complacent.”
(Reporting by Matt Smith; editing by Ken Ferris)