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Rickie Fowler backs Fred Couples for US Ryder Cup role

Fowler clearly suspects that Couples’s laid-back attitude could be just what the team require after all the intensity and recrimination which surrounded Watson’s captaincy. Having first admonished Mickelson for turning on Watson in the after-match press conference in Perthshire, Fowler seems to have altered his opinion and now sees the negative effect caused by such a rigid and impersonal style of leadership.

“We were all surprised [at the time], but I feel Phil was the one guy in the position to say something,” Fowler said. “With Phil being sat out for the day on Saturday and feeling like he didn’t get to do his part, you know, he kind of had the right to do so.

“I don’t think anything really bad has come of it. With the task force getting the players involved more, it should have a good impact – I think the PGA’s main goal is to have the players more involved in the process, more invested in the decisions and feel that as a team we are together as one.”

At 25, Fowler is the youngest on the panel and it is obvious that plenty is expected of him in the future. Certainly the kid from California has no inferiority ­complex to conquer.

Despite being touched off by Rory McIlroy down the stretch at both the Open and US PGA last year – and, indeed, being thumped by the world No 1 5&4 in the singles at the Ryder Cup – Fowler will be confident when he plays against him again here. He has been drawn alongside McIlroy and the Italian Matteo Manassero for the first two rounds.

“When Rory is on top of his driving game he is very tough to beat,” Fowler said. “And that is maybe the one aspect of his game that I can’t match up with. But I don’t feel my game is any weaker than his or anything. We’ve had some great battles in some final rounds and I have come out on top a few times. It’s just so happened he’s come out on top a few times more than me.”

Fowler’s two victories as a professional have both come at the expense of McIlroy: in Korea in 2011 and in Charlotte in 2012. There is a ­bur­geoning rivalry between the two – and a special friendship, the latter evidenced by the fact that Fowler has agreed to play at Royal County Down in June at the Irish Open, which McIlroy promotes.

It was at that stunning Ulster links where Fowler and McIlroy first got to know each other in the 2007 Walker Cup. Fowler had the better of McIlroy on that occasion and on Wednesday he hinted that Europe could well witness more of these duels.

As he is also playing in the Scottish Open at Gullane, Fowler could rack up enough events to become a European Tour member. “It’s definitely something to look into,” Fowler said. “It’s my first time here and I’m excited to be expanding my horizons and playing with Rory and everything.”

What a prospect we have at a season-opener which features world No 2 Henrik Stenson as well. Not only is McIlroy desperate to start his year off with a win – having finished second in this event on three occasions – but there is also the Englishman Justin Rose, who has the chance to enter the world’s top three. “This season I’d like to become more of a prolific winner, winning multiple times,” Rose said. “That is the next step.”

Runners and Ryders for US captaincy

Fred Couples
Has led the US to Presidents Cup glory three times in succession against the Rest of the World (minus Europe) and appears to be the players’ choice

Paul Azinger
The only winning US captain this century, Azinger was referenced by Mickelson in his Gleneagles rant against Watson. Would make many demands before taking the role again.

Steve Stricker
An assistant captain to Watson, Stricker was credited with actually making it more peaceful than it would have been. Still a top player who is well-respected by Woods and Co.

David Toms
Was the favourite to captain at Gleneagles before Watson’s shock appointment. The 2001 USPGA winner is a popular figure, but perhaps lacks the charisma and cutting edge.


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