Rory McIlroy helps sway Cup vote

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Don't feel bad if the name Paul McGinley doesn't click right away. To the casual fan, especially one following golf in the United States or on the PGA Tour, the Irishman is virtually unknown -- even though he holed the winning putt to clinch a European Ryder Cup victory in 2002.

That was McGinley's biggest achievement in the game until he was named the 2014 European captain Tuesday night to cap a bizarre process that would make even the most seasoned politician blush.

Lobbying, infighting, arm-twisting ... don't ever say the Europeans are the most unified group when it comes to the Ryder Cup. There was strong sentiment to go with Colin Montgomerie, the Scotsman who captained the team to victory in 2010 and would have gladly done so again next year at Gleneagles, just a few miles from his home.

The theory was that the European Tour needed a big presence to stand up to the huge personality that is Tom Watson, the surprising choice of the PGA of America last month for U.S. captain.

"I didn't think the right thing to do was react to that," said Rory McIlroy, who attended McGinley's late-night news conference and was outspoken in his desire to see him get the post. "The Ryder Cup is won on the golf course, not on stages where speeches are made."

And already, you can see the power of the Northern Irishman. Just 23, McIlroy did not hold back when it came to an opinion about the Ryder Cup captain. He made it clear that it should be a one-and-done gig. And he knew that if McGinley, 46, didn't get the job this time, his shot at the job would be gone.

Along those lines, players such as Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose all expressed their support for McGinley, especially through Twitter.

"I don't Twit," McGinley said, laughing. "But one thing I have learned from this is the power of Twitter. That was a big card that Rory played for me."

Unlike the PGA of America, which covertly talked to Watson more than a year ago and doesn't disclose exactly how it comes to its decision, the European Tour selects its captain through a committee of players, led by Thomas Bjorn -- also one day expected to be a European captain.

In recent weeks, the story played out as both McGinley and Darren Clarke appeared to be in line for the job, with Clarke then bowing out and Montgomerie's name taking on prominence, with the likes of Sandy Lyle, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul Lawrie considered.

The Tuesday night meeting at the St. Regis Hotel was set long ago, and a ballroom was commissioned for a news conference after the meeting, which dragged on for more than two hours. Although the European Tour announced the appointment of McGinley as "unanimous," all indications are it was not as simple as that.

And yet, in the end, the opinions of the players not in attendance mattered.

"The committee is 100 percent behind this captain," Bjorn said. "I think we made the right decision. We listened to our players."

McGinley took it further than that, saying such support pushed him ahead.

"It's amazing what you can learn when you listen and don't talk," McGinley said. "That's what's happened.

"I knew I had the support of the players. I thought my hand was very strong to be the captain and if it was meant to be, it was meant to be and I felt that the more I would say, the more my chances would lessen. And I felt that it was the right thing to do. I read and followed every word that went down the last few weeks, I have to say, and watched with interest. Like a yo‑yo, my chances seemed to go up and down and up and down."

Although McGinley attended the University of San Diego, he never played the PGA Tour as a member and has only four victories on the European Tour, his last coming in 2005. That's one fewer win than U.S. captain Tom Watson has Open Championships.

"If you look at my career, it's quite modest compared to the ex-captains that we've had in Ryder Cups, and that's what very humbling for me; that I am in this position," he said. "I obviously don't match the record that they have in terms of what they have achieved in major championships and whatnot."

Even his Ryder Cup record of 2-2-5 is not overly impressive, but he did hole that winning putt at The Belfry in 2002 and played on three winning teams while also serving as an assistant to Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal last year.

Where he gained the greatest respect from the players, however, was in his work as captain of the Great Britain & Ireland team in the Seve Trophy, a Ryder Cup style competition every other year against a team from continental Europe. McIlroy raved about his experience at the 2009 matches and Padraig Harrington pointed out his efforts behind the scenes at the Ryder Cup as well as the Seve Trophy captaincy.

"The Ryder Cup means far more to him than playing does ... which is why he's Ryder Cup captain," Harrington said. "Like Monty, the Ryder Cup is the pinnacle of his career. First playing-wise and now as captain. He has sacrificed his golf the last two years and will the next year because of that. He's made an effort the last few years with the Seve Trophy and things like that to be in touch with the younger players. To that extent, he has not been his own man as far as playing golf. It is a selfish game and he's been unselfish."

In America, McGinley's credentials would not get him the job. There has never been a U.S. captain who had not won a major championship.

But he will fit right in with the "us-against-the-world" mentality the Europeans so beautifully employ to their advantage. The players, who so openly supported him, will want to do their best to see him knock off the giant that is Watson.