• Ryder Cup

Clarke backs McIlroy to lead Ryder defence

ESPN staff
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Darren Clarke has watched Rory McIlroy's development into the world's No. 1 golfer at close quarters © PA Photos
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Darren Clarke has backed Rory McIlroy to shine as Europe prepare to defend the Ryder Cup on American soil, but believes the form and experience of the team heading to Medinah will make the difference.

McIlroy will arrive in Chicago as world No. 1 and in top form on the back of three victories in his last four tournaments as he prepares for his second Ryder Cup.

Fellow Northern Irishman Clarke has backed McIlroy to emerge as a European talisman, but believes the strength in depth will be crucial if they are to retain the trophy.

"We've got the hottest and best player in the world right now," Clarke told Sky Sports News. "Rory has been destined to be the player that he is for a very long time."

McIlroy is now hoping to enjoy a lengthy stay at the top of the rankings to rival Tiger Woods' period of dominance, though he would rather avoid comparisons with Woods' mediocre Ryder Cup history with the US team.

But Clarke believes criticism of Woods, who has been characterised as a poor team player, is misplaced. "We weren't in the [US] team room, nobody was. We don't how much input he was having - I'm sure he was having plenty," Clarke said.

"He was the best player in the world - he still is one of the best players in the world - but Rory's now the No. 1 player in the world and he's respected by the Americans as well as the Europeans.

"He's possibly going to be our leader, but you've got a load of more experienced guys," Clarke added. "Lee [Westwood]'s the most experienced guy on the team and we'll be looking forward to guys like him leading by inspiration."

Clarke, who will be one of Jose Maria Olazabal's European vice-captains at his seventh Ryder Cup, expects another tight contest in Chicago after the 2010 edition at Celtic Manor was settled late on day three by the final group.

"This year going into it, the teams are so even," Clarke said. "Two fantastic teams, so you can imagine it's going to come down to maybe what G-Mac (Graeme McDowell) did, holing that putt on the 16th in the last group on the Sunday again.

"I'm sure it's going to be a really close match again."

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