Sort This Thing Out


As landmark events go, the 2008 Ryder Cup doesn’t register as more than a blip on the outer edge of most radar screens. Boo Weekley’s antics are what I remember most – the mock horse he rode off the first tee Sunday highlighted a week that was improbably fun and wildly successful for the United States. Seeing how he’s 46th in the current Ryder Cup standings, Boo needs to saddle up and get that pony into full gallop immediately, if not sooner.

Every good team can use a comedian. Woody Austin took on the role in 2007, when Jack Nicklaus’ final Presidents Cup squad smashed the Internationals in the first of three consecutive room-to-spare wins for the U.S. It was the ’08 victory, however, that altered the landscape. The Ryder Cup is still a lot bigger and a lot more intense, and in recent years, Europe has been the much tougher foe, although the gap between the Yanks and Euros has never been greater than it is now.

In that context, the U.S. victory at Valhalla two years ago was a big deal. Forced into the ultra-rare role of home underdog, Paul Azinger piloted the Americans past Europe without Tiger Woods. As the series shifts to Wales, however, the visitors look even weaker – with or without Woods – and would seem to have little chance of holding onto the chalice unless we see an American leaderboard invasion in the next two weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. Jeff Overton is a nice player, having piled up three second-place finishes and two thirds since late April, but he’s also fourth in the U.S. standings – fourth and winless, no less – which scares me. Right behind Overton is Anthony Kim, who hasn’t played in 2 ½ months. How can a guy miss that much time in the heart of the season and return to action with a spot all but locked up?

Good question. With Tiger Woods fighting through his issues and Phil Mickelson in the midst of another half-speed summer, the U.S. simply hasn’t had much presence on big-tournament leader boards. The British Open was frightening – not a single American within eight strokes of the lead entering the final round. Overton has made a ton of money, much of it in weak-field events such as last week’s gathering at the Greenbrier, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and for the most part, Overton has gotten it done.

A fair number of veterans, meanwhile, aren’t making things easy for U.S. skipper Corey Pavin, who will likely to use at least two of his four picks on guys with multi-Ryder Cup experience. Stewart Cink is 13th, Zach Johnson 20th, Kenny Perry 23rd, Scott Verplank 24th, Chad Campbell 29th. Of that bunch, Johnson would seem the closest to must-pick status, but a victory at Colonial remains his only top 10 in 18 starts all year.

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Then there are the tweeners: Ricky Barnes, J.B. Holmes, Sean O’Hair. It’s easy to see Pavin choosing one of the three, but a lot depends on whether the Dude in the Red Shirt qualifies. Woods is currently ninth, one spot away from an automatic berth, and though logic tells us Tiger could win at Firestone and Whistling Straits, he could also continue his lackluster play, at which point Pavin would have to burn a pick. Either way, Woods is in if wants to be on the team.

So Pavin may have some tough decisions to make, although the U.S. situation isn’t nearly as convoluted as it is in Europe, where Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson are among those on the outside looking in. Garcia wouldn’t warrant a second thought if he didn’t own such a spectacular record (14-6-4) and the best point percentage in Euro Ryder Cup history. With Luke Donald and at least one of the Molinari brothers in good position to make the roster, skipper Colin Montgomerie has his own issues to deal with.

Does he use a pick on Harrington, a three-time major champion and positive influence who hasn’t contended anywhere since March? What about Martin Kaymer, who can look like the best player in the world one week, then vanish for months on end? At some point, both captains must weigh a man’s past accomplishments with his present value. How seriously, for instance, does Pavin consider Cink, the 2009 British Open champion but largely invisible for all of ’10?

In prior Ryder Cup summers, things had a tendency to shake themselves out. This year, both captains may have little choice but to shake things up.