WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | Sports

Captains differ in approaches to final pairings

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - U.S. captain Paul Azinger and his
European counterpart, Nick Faldo, competed ferociously at golf when
both were still players, then added poker, fly fishing, and even
who could make the most commercials to the mix once they became
Ryder Cup captains. On Saturday night, they crossed swords one
final time.
The day ended with the United States holding a 9-7 lead when
both captains submitted their lineups for Sunday's dozen singles
matches. But it easily could have been 8-8 had Swede Robert
Karlsson's 12-footer dropped for eagle instead of his still very
impressive seventh birdie to halve the final afternoon better-ball
match.
It should have come as no surprise that the captains took
different approaches filling out their rosters, because while
Azinger and Faldo have a few things in common - both segued from
playing to the broadcast booth, each stole a major from Greg
Norman's grasp - there are many more differences.
Azinger boldly front-loaded his lineup. He put his toughest
quartet out first: in order, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Justin
Leonard and Phil Mickelson. In picking his middle four, Azinger
apparently was relying as much on a lift from the hometown crowd as
he was on the players skills; he put Kentuckian Kenny Perry at No.
4, followed by Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes, another homestate lad, and
steady Jim Furyk at No. 8.
But if the Americans haven't locked up 5½ points by then, things
could get really interesting. Other than Stewart Cink at No. 9,
there's not a player in Azinger's last three - Steve Stricker, Ben
Curtis and Chad Campbell - who figures to be favored.
"There was a little bit of discussion about it, and we kind of
had a big group huddle," Azinger said. "I already had this in my
mind that this is how I wanted to do it, and I was just getting a
little confirmation.
"Anyone who tried to make it any different," he said smiling,
"I just explained to them why I thought they might be wrong."
Both of the uncharacteristic gambles Faldo has taken so far have
worked out beautifully. His much-criticized selection of Ian
Poulter as a captain's pick was more than validated by the
Englishman's 3-1 record in his four matches. Ditto for Faldo's even
more-criticized decision to sit Euro stalwarts Lee Westwood and
Sergio Garcia in the morning, when their teammates wrested 2½
points of a possible four from the U.S. side.
But the Europeans' last-day lineup is vintage Faldo, cautious
and with an eye out for every contingency. Plus, because the Euros
have the cup, they would retain it if the matches finish 14-14,
which means they need only seven points.
He, too, opted for toughness out of the gate, slotting Garcia in
the No. 1 spot. But the players from No. 2 through No. 9 are almost
interchangeable parts. If it's still up for grabs at that point,
bet on Europe.
Poulter, the hottest player in these matches is at No. 10,
followed by Westwood, the longest serving member on either team,
and then Padraig Harrington, winner of this season's final two
majors.
"We've been in there for half an hour doing this," Faldo said.
"We got in there and everybody was involved in this. So we've
thought long and hard about it. It's been an extremely tight match
so far, so we will see.
As for holding his money player until last - a move that
backfired in 2002, when the Europeans won with Tiger Woods still
playing the 17th - Faldo said simply, "Padraig wanted to go
there."
The last time the U.S. side led going into the final day was on
home soil at Oak Hill in 1995, which should serve as a reminder
that momentum is everything at the Ryder Cup. The question is
whether a team will need it at the beginning or the end.
Anyone who has watched the scoreboard change colors like the
temperature gauge in an overheating car knows how quickly a cushion
can become a hot seat. The Americans took that same 9-7 lead into
Sunday at Oak Hill, only to see the knees of one teammate after
another buckle at the 18th, when four pivotal matches reached the
18th green and the Euros won them all and he cup in the bargain.
Conversely, think of how fast the Europeans squandered a 10-6
advantage at Brookline four years later, losing the first six
matches before Justin Leonard's putt sealed the biggest comeback by
either side in Ryder Cup history.
"I don't know if this has a theme to it, but most importantly I
deal with present time, right now," Faldo said. "You take the
experience from the past, but you have to make a decision in the
present. Experience is relative."
Soon enough, one of the captains will fitted for a crown and
celebrated, the other for a dunce cap and forced to explain. No
event is better suited for second guessing, and the guess here is
that Europe will finish second for the first time in the last four
matches.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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