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U.S. has shot for redemption at Ryder Cup

Azinger’s captain's picks hold the key

August 6, 2008

Mark it down. 2008 just might be the year the United States doesn't get waxed in the Ryder Cup.

The 35th incarnation of the event takes place Sept. 16-21 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. The United States hasn't won the event since 1999 when Ben Crenshaw captained a miracle comeback in Brookline, Mass.

The last three Cups? Europe has cruised, 52.5-31.5.

Call it poor leadership, poor play, poor camaraderie - any and all apply.

Paul Azinger can change that.

In 2006 the after losing for the third-straight time, the U.S. changed up its Ryder Cup selection process. The top eight players in the Ryder Cup points standings qualify automatically and the captain, Azinger, has four at-large picks.

Tiger won't be around this year, perhaps immediately notching the advantage to the Europeans.

But even with Tiger the U.S. has lost three straight. Woods is 10-13-2 in five Ryder Cups.

He's a solid 3-1-1 in singles play, but do the math - with his teammates he's winning less than half the time.

While theories have been endless, one simple observation seems to have applied in each of the last three Cups.

Europe wants it more.

How else can you explain it? It's not as if the talent pool is so superbly better across the pond. But when it comes Ryder Cup time, Europe rallies the troops, and they respond.

Just look at guys like Sergio Garcia.

Garcia has never won a major title. He's constantly criticized for letting the big ones slip away down the stretch. But you sure can't criticize him when it comes to the Ryder Cup. He's gone 14-4-2 in his appearances.

How about another so-called choker in majors, Colin Montgomerie.

Monty has failed to seal the deal a number of times, notably in America where he has never once won a tournament (Skins Game excluded). Get him to the Ryder Cup and it's a different story.

Monty is 20-9-7 in eight appearances.

Newcomers to the Cup in Europe respond like it's their God-given duty to serve their homelands

Look at the combined records of Paul Casey, David Howell and Luke Donald. All have represented Europe in the last two Ryder Cups. They carry a tally of 11-3-4.

How is it that not even the greatest golfer in the history of the sport - of course I'm talking about Tiger - is less than .500 in Ryder Cup play? Simple. American golfers simply do not unite, and many of them just don't care.

Take for example Hunter Mahan who is currently 10th in the Cup rankings. He said U.S. golfers are treated like "slaves" and essentially play for free, citing that "time is valuable," and "this is a business." Last I checked Hunter, you have made over $1.5 million this year - money from the PGA of America.

So pardon the PGA of America for asking you to sacrifice a week to represent your country without giving you a big, fat check for it. The purses on the PGA are huge, and it's a slap in the face to the Tour to say that Ryder Cup week is so hard because of the "huge, massive dinners." Boo hoo, Hunter. Yes, the PGA makes a killing on it. But guess what? You make a killing off of the PGA.

America should be so proud.

Still, Mahan is basically reflecting what has been the American sentiment for three straight Cups.

Not since the 1999 team has any American squad been willing to check its collective ego. You constantly hear about the rivalries between American golfers. You hear about them between European golfers as well, but they set it all aside when it comes to what is arguably the single biggest event in the game.

It all has to do with who is on the squad, and Azinger is the key.

The United States has through this weekend to solidify it's automatic qualifiers. Right now the top eight are Stewart Cink, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Boo Weekly and Steve Stricker.

You've got big-time pluses in guys like Kim and Weekly who are fresh faces and still have the desire to win, regardless of the paycheck. Leonard sank the miracle putt in 1999 that gave the U.S. the victory, so he knows what taking the Cup is all about. Perry skipped the British Open just so he could earn more Ryder Cup points in Milwaukee, so he wants to be there. Mickelson at least appears to care, but his desire at season's end is always a question mark, as Lefty typically turns his game off after the year's final major. Overall though, it certainly seems like a very solid top eight.

Now for the captain's picks.

Since it's on U.S. soil, Azinger can't make the same mistake former captain Hal Sutton made back in 2004 when he said his picks weren't a popularity contest. That was the year Sutton passed on fan-favorite John Daly when Daly was playing the best golf of his life and was actually close to being an automatic qualifier. The U.S. lost, 18.5-9.5 in Michigan that year in what was probably one of the lamest displays of team golf in the history of the sport.

A popularity contest is exactly what it is. If you want home field advantage in full effect, pick the guys the crowd will go nuts for.

First off, Hunter Mahan can stay home. He doesn't want to be there. If Mahan doesn't automatically qualify and Azinger picks him, it would be the dumbest move in the history of the event.

If they don't automatically qualify, Azinger needs to take ninth-ranked Woody Austin and 12th-ranked Rocco Mediate.

Austin wants to play in this thing more than anything. So does Rocco. And guess what? The fans love them both, and they're playing the best golf of their careers. Zach Johnson is sitting pretty at No. 13, and would love to represent the stars and stripes. Sean O'Hair is another youngster playing well at No. 14.

Really, besides taking the two big fan-favorites in Mediate and Austin, Azinger can take anyone ranked in the top 25 and do alright.

Obviously, Azinger is waiting like the rest of us to see how the PGA Championship plays out. With any luck, a marquee American way down on the list (David Toms, Fred Couples, John Daly, David Duval, Davis Love III) will play out of his rear this weekend and give the U.S. captain the choice of taking another big name with a big draw to shake up Europe on American turf.

It's time for the U.S. to end the embarrassment. The top eight look good. If Azinger makes the right moves and takes full advantage of home field, the U.S. will finally win back some Ryder Cup pride.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at



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