Wyndham Clark, the US Open champion, lit the blue touch paper at the Ryder Cup by claiming the European players would be “leaking oil” and “mentally fatigued” by Sunday and that it could bring their first home defeat in 30 years.
Clark, who beat Rory McIlroy down the stretch to win his first major in June, has emerged as perhaps the most outspoken rookie in the history of the Ryder Cup and he poured more fuel on the fire by questioning the amount of tournament golf the Europeans had played in the build-up to this weekend’s showdown.
The Denver native is one of nine members of the United States team who have been competitively inactive for almost five weeks since the FedEx Cup final, but far from worrying about their own rust concerns, Clark claimed it was the opposition who might be at a disadvantage.
All 12 of Luke Donald’s team played at Wentworth in the BMW PGA Championship two weeks ago, with seven finishing in the top 10, and several also played in the European Masters and Irish Open.
“It’s great that they got to play, but I also think they might be maybe a little mentally fatigued as this week goes on,” Clark, 29, said. “This is a very intense environment and mentally challenging, and then you put in a pretty physically demanding golf course, being so hilly and up and down, that maybe, come Sunday, they might be leaking oil and we’ll be fresh.”
Only last week Clark had said: “I like to think I am better than Rory and I want to prove that,” although he tried to back down from that statement on Wednesday. McIlroy will no doubt raise eyebrows at the fatigue comment.
The world No 2 was diplomatic when asked about the US preparation, which only saw Justin Thomas and Max Homa playing on the PGA Tour a fortnight ago and Brooks Koepka in last week’s LIV event in Chicago.
“The Americans will certainly be well rested,” McIlroy said. “I don’t think there’s any substitute for being sharp and playing tournaments. The only thing is it’s match play and not stroke play so it’s a little bit different, but I don’t think us playing a little bit more over these last few weeks is going to hurt us at all.
“If anything I would say it’s certainly better for me. I wouldn’t have liked to go into the Ryder Cup with my last start being the Tour Championship (in August) but that’s personal preference. I like to play my way into the big events.”
Paul McGinley, the 2014 captain, believes the break could be an error on behalf of Zach Johnson’s team as they look to win their first Ryder Cup on European soil in 30 years. “I don’t understand why they are treating this any differently than a major,” he told Telegraph Sport.
“The gap between the [US] PGA and the US Open is also about five weeks and none of them, barring injury, would take all that time off in between. They’d want to play at least one tournament in the gap to ensure they are match sharp. But not here for the Ryder Cup, when it’s all go, straight off the gun for a three-day match? I’m not sure any Ryder Cup team has ever had so many players who haven’t played competitively for so long in the build-up and that could be a mistake as far as I’m concerned. But we’ll see.”
The prospect of a Clark versus McIlroy encounter is now almost irresistible, regardless of his attempts to explain declaring his desire to play the four-time major winner here to show his supposed superiority.
“What was I supposed to say?” Clark said when quizzed about his comments. “If I say I think he’s better than me and he’s going to beat me, then I’m going to get ridiculed because people don’t think I have any self-belief.
“And then if I have self-belief, which I do in myself, people take it out of context either way, so it was kind of a tough question. I don’t know if Rory saw the full interview or if he just saw the little snippet that everyone is running with or if he’s seen it at all. I have not seen him or talked to him.
“I would love to talk to him because I imagine he’d probably give me some jabs here and there. I’d love to get a chance to play against him this week, and if it doesn’t happen, that’s fine.”