Azinger finalizes US Ryder Cup team

By Associated PressSeptember 2, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ryder CupNEW YORK ' Chad Campbell lingered in the parking lot of a Dallas hospital as his wife waited inside to get the latest report on their first child, due to be born later this week.
 
He wanted a clear signal on his cell phone to hear the good news: Campbell is going to the Ryder Cup.
 
Paul Azinger completed his American team Tuesday with captains picks, adding Campbell, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and Kentucky native J.B. Holmes to a team that will have six Ryder Cup rookies and no Tiger Woods.
 
I think that we have rounded off this team with the best possible players at this time, Azinger said.
 
Stricker was at the top of his list all along, the No. 8 player in the world ranking and among the best putters in golf who would have qualified for the team if the points counted over the last two weeks.
 
Azinger also favored Holmes, a big basher off the tee who is sure to get local support when the Ryder Cup is played Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Mahan opened his eyes with a 62 at Ridgewood Country Club in the first round of The Barclays.
 
The final piece was Campbell, who played on the last two Ryder Cup teams but was barely mentioned as speculation increased over the last few weeks. The quiet Texan made one last impression by finishing 69-66 at the TPC Boston.
 
I knew I was on the outside looking in, but I felt like I played pretty well over the last couple months, other than a couple of tournaments, Campbell said. I was just hoping that he saw that. I feel like Im playing as well as I ever have right now. Im honored to be picked.
 
The final choice was between Campbell and Scott Verplank, who was 33rd in the Ryder Cup standings but is a rarity among Americans with a winning record this decade. Verplank is 4-1 in his two Ryder Cups, beating Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington in singles, while playing on teams beaten by a combined 12 points.
 
Also bypassed were Woody Austin, who finished at No. 10 in the standings except that only the top eight earned sports this year; Rocco Mediate, who lost a 19-hole playoff to Woods in the U.S. Open; Tampa winner Sean OHair, Bob Hope Classic winner D.J. Trahan and Brandt Snedeker.
 
Its hard for me to justify why the guys didnt make the team, Azinger said. I can just tell you why I picked the guys that I did pick. Theres a lot of guys that deserve to be on this team, and theres a lot of guys that were really close to making it.
 
The eight players who qualified were Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekley. Along with the four picks, they face a big chore.
 
The United States has not won the Ryder Cup since 1999, when Leonard holed a 45-foot birdie putt at The Country Club to complete the biggest comeback in history. Europe has captured the cup eight of the last 11 times dating to 1985.
 
Azinger thinks this European squad is the strongest ever.
 
I like the team that we have and Im really confident with who we have, Azinger said. We are going to be underdogs in this event, and I think its OK to be the underdog.
 
European captain Nick Faldo picked Ian Poulter and Paul Casey on Sunday to fill out his 12-man team, overlooking Darren Clarke, who had won twice in the last four months and had played in the Ryder Cup the last five times.
 
Azinger revamped the criteria, doubled his picks to four, then asked to delay his selections three weeks with hopes of finding someone who could get hot with the matches approaching.
 
That didnt make the job any easier. His wife, Toni, celebrated her 50th birthday on Monday as Azinger made a series of phone calls trying to decide how to fill out his team.
 
I kept telling him, Paul, its my birthday, Mrs. Azinger said with a laugh. It was a long night. He put a lot of thought into those picks, and hes real excited.
 
No one was as excited as Stricker, about the only person who didnt know he was a lock. After the first round Friday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he sat alone at a table, staring at the scores.
 
Its eating me up, he confided.
 
Azinger showed mercy by calling him soon after the tournament ended to end the suspense.
 
I asked Paul right away if this was a good (phone) call or a bad call, Stricker said. I needed to know. And obviously, it was a good call. Im very excited. It has been my No. 1 goal at the start of the season.
 
Mahan also had reason to be concerned.
 
Some thought his chances were damaged when he was quoted in a magazine article criticizing the largesse of the Ryder Cup week and claiming that PGA of America officials cared only about making money.
 
Mahan owned up to the remarks, apologized to the PGA and to Azinger, then shot 81 in the first round of the PGA Championship. But he showed enough of his firepower ' the 62 at Ridgewood and a 64 at the TPC Boston when he rallied to make the cut ' that made him an obvious choice to Azinger.
 
I think that weve all moved on from those comments, and Im just looking forward to the Ryder Cup, Mahan said. Im so grateful that captain Azinger has given me this opportunity, and Im looking forward to starting it up. Im looking forward to every minute, every second of it. And Im going to enjoy every second of it.
 
Along with bashing his tee shots, Holmes is a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR, adding another title at the FBR Open this year when he birdied the last hole and then beat Mickelson in a playoff. Along with his Kentucky heritage ' he made the high school team in tiny Campbellsville when he was in the third grade ' Holmes knows Valhalla as well as anyone.
 
All I can tell you is that the four guys that I have, those were the four guys that became very obvious to me, Azinger said. And Im happy with those four guys.
 

Related Links:
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
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