LONDON • Darren Clarke believes Thomas Pieters is a future world No. 1 with a talent comparable to Tiger Woods, after confirming the Belgian will make his Ryder Cup debut for Europe at Hazeltine this month.
Pieters was given a wild-card pick by Clarke, as were Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, with the selection of the former the cause for understandable debate.
Russell Knox, who won on the PGA Tour in early August to back up a World Golf Championships victory from late last year, was overlooked by the Europe captain.
Former world No. 1 Luke Donald and 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell also missed out. Half of Clarke's 12-man team will be making their Ryder Cup debuts.
"I've been on Tour for a long time and I've seen massive talent come along," Clarke said. "I played with Tiger Woods when he was an amateur in The Open. I've seen Rory McIlroy up close since he was a very young kid. Thomas Pieters impresses me in the same league as those guys. He has that amount of talent."
Clarke added that his call to world No. 20 Knox was "really, really difficult to make," with the Scot seeking to make a rookie appearance of his own.
ONE FOR THE FUTURE
I played with Tiger Woods when he was an amateur in The Open. I've seen Rory McIlroy up close since he was a very young kid. Thomas Pieters impresses me in the same league as those guys.
DARREN CLARKE, European Ryder Cup captain, on how highly he rates world No. 41 Thomas Pieters, 24.
The captain hinted that Knox's failure to play at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina, from which he could have gained automatic entry into the team, was significant.
"I thought he might have played," he said. "I spoke to him the day after he won the Travelers Championship and suggested to him that he might want to go and play. He decided not to do that. He wanted to be fresh for the FedExCup (play-offs).
"If he had gone to the Wyndham, maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation right now."
World No. 41 Pieters, a three-time European Tour winner, immediately exuded confidence upon knowing that he had been picked.
"There's no fear factor," said the 24-year-old. "It's going to be a matter of dealing with the crowds. I haven't really played in front of a crowd that's against you, so that will be interesting, but I'll be up for the task."