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Azinger's Ryder Cup team short on experience

September 03, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

What does it mean when half your Ryder Cup team has never played in it before? The U.S. is going to find out in a couple of weeks when it fields a team of six rookies against a European team that won the last two Ryder Cup matches by the most lopsided scores in history.

U.S. captain Paul Azinger filled out the last four members of his squad Tuesday, three of them Ryder Cup rookies and two of them at least mild surprises.

Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, J.B. Holmes and Chad Campbell were captain's picks for Azinger, who said no to Woody Austin and Rocco Mediate.

Stricker, Mahan and Holmes will make their Ryder Cup debuts in the matches, Sept. 19-21, at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. The other U.S. rookies who made the team based on their point totals are Anthony Kim, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekley.

Azinger said after the PGA Championship that the three tournaments that followed would go a long way toward deciding his captain's picks.

"Unfortunately, we had three foreign winners [Carl Pettersson and Vijay Singh twice] in those events, so nobody really jumped off the page," Azinger said.

It was Azinger who persuaded the PGA of America to alter the captain's picks process and double his choices to four, and as it turned out, that also doubled the confusion level. With the exception of Stricker, whose strength is putting and hitting fairways, none of the other choices was obvious.

Stricker was ninth in the Ryder Cup points standings and would have made the team under the old rules. That's also true for Austin, who was 10th, but hurt his chances when he shot 79-79 and missed the cut at the PGA Championship.

But Mahan also missed the cut by shooting 81-79, he shot 80 in the first round of the British Open, he has missed four cuts in his last 10 events and he raised eyebrows for comments critical of the Ryder Cup remuneration policy for players.

Azinger passed over D.J. Trahan, Sean O'Hair, Mediate, Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson in the points standings to select the long-hitting Holmes. His upsides are that he has won this year (at Phoenix), he averages 310.4 yards off the tee, he's a local guy from Kentucky and he should be ideal for the alternate-shot format.

At least Campbell has played Ryder Cup twice before, but he's 1-3-2 in two appearances and he was 20th in the points standings.

Europe's team was set over the weekend, when captain Nick Faldo created his own waves by picking Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, ignoring Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie. He will have four rookies in Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Soren Hansen and Oliver Wilson.

If the U.S. team is short on experience, Azinger has a different spin on it: "Anyone who has played in the last six Ryder Cups has experienced getting their [butts] beat."

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thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Ryder Cup

Rosters for Sept. 19-21 event in Louisville, Ky. Captains (C) do not play. (*captain's pick; WR-world ranking):

*--* USA WR EUROPE WR Phil Mickelson 2 Padraig Harrington 4 Steve Stricker* 8 Sergio Garcia 5 Stewart Cink 9 Henrik Stenson 6 Jim Furyk 13 Lee Westwood 12 Anthony Kim 15 Justin Rose 14 Kenny Perry 17 Miguel Angel Jimenez 18 Justin Leonard 23 Robert Karlsson 21 Ben Curtis 33 Ian Poulter* 25 Boo Weekley 35 Graeme McDowell 31 Hunter Mahan* 37 Paul Casey* 36 Chad Campbell* 53 Soren Hansen 44 J. B. Holmes* 55 Oliver Wilson 48 Paul Azinger (C) Nick Faldo (C) *--*

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