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THOMAS BONK / ON GOLF

Captain Azinger's ship may be sinking

August 19, 2008|Thomas Bonk

When does a no-win situation become a must-win situation? When the U.S. Ryder Cup team shows up at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., next month to play hugely favored and two-time defending champion Europe, starting Sept. 19.

Between now and then, here's what U.S. Captain Paul Azinger has to do:

* Figure out how to win without Tiger Woods.

* Make four captain's picks, which is double the number from previous years.

* Plot how to pair 12 players in teams.

* Curse his luck.

Not having Woods can't help much. But let's face it, even with Woods in the lineup the last two Ryder Cup outcomes have been the biggest defeats for the U.S. since the series started in 1927 -- identical blowouts of 18 1/2 -9 1/2 .

Europe has won five of the last six Ryder Cups and perhaps the only thing that stands in front of making it six out of seven is some creative thinking by Azinger.

He already knows his core group of eight who made the team on points -- Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekley.

Azinger will choose four more, and there's not an easy choice in the bunch.

But here's the way the thinking may be going.

Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson have both competed on international match-play teams, Stricker in two Presidents Cups and Johnson in the last Ryder Cup.

But Stricker has one top-10 finish in his last 11 events. Give Johnson, who's good with the putter, one of the spots.

Woody Austin missed the cut at the PGA Championship and he's a poor putter. Bad combination.

He's also got a quirky personality and could be good in the team room. Good combination.

D.J. Trahan won the Bob Hope and tied for fourth at the U.S. Open. He's a solid "maybe."

Rocco Mediate and J.B. Holmes didn't break 80 in the final round of the PGA Championship.

Hunter Mahan, Sean O'Hair and Brandt Snedeker are all in the top 15 on the points list, so they can be grouped together. They also are young and without experience.

So, handicapping the race right now, here are four suggestions that Azinger can add to the pile he's received so far:

Take Johnson, Stricker, Austin and either Mahan or O'Hair.

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Chatter

* David Leadbetter, Michelle Wie's coach, on Wie's playing strategy that has included playing PGA Tour events: "It's a shock to me and to her agents that this is happening. I don't think the family is making the right choice. There's definitely more to lose than to gain.

"I've put too much time and effort into Michelle to be able to sit by and watch this happening without saying something. If she doesn't stick to doing what's sensible, we could see one of the greatest potential talents the game has ever known going to waste."

* Wie on her tie for 12th at the Canadian Women's Open: "You know, I feel like I gained a lot of, you know, confidence."

* Fred Funk, on his three-shot victory at the Jeld-Wen Tradition, the last Champions Tour major of the year: "If you're in a fight, I want to kick them again. I learned that when I used to be a boxer. You don't want this guy coming back. So when he's down, kick him again."

* From Carl Pettersson, whose victory at the Wyndham Championship was his third -- but the first seen in person by his wife and family: "I can't wait to get back upstairs and have a few drinks with my family."

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He's No. 1

Why anybody needed numbers to back it up is anyone's guess, but in a recent poll asking PGA Tour fans to identify their favorite golfers for the first half of the year, Woods was the No. 1 selection by a huge margin.

Woods owned 64% of the votes, with Mickelson getting 5.5%, according to ESPN Sports Poll, a service of TNS Sport. The next four were tied for third: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Vijay Singh and Annika Sorenstam.

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thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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