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U.S. needs to break mold with next Ryder Cup captain

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Extreme measures are in order.

With the United States losing five of the last six Ryder Cups now, seven of the last nine, the pressure is on the PGA of America to snap out of a prideful, stubborn pattern that’s hurting the American team.

The PGA’s next choice as U.S. captain may rank as its most important since these matches began in 1927.

The PGA’s choice to lead the Americans against Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014 ought to be narrowed down to two men right now: Paul Azinger and Fred Couples.

But they’re long shots.

The problem is that either choice defies the modern regime’s stubborn history.

Azinger, 52, broke Europe’s stronghold on the cup by leading the Americans to victory in ’08 at Valhalla. He probably would have come back to lead the Americans again in ’10 if he had been asked, but the PGA doesn’t bring captains back anymore. Nobody has been given a second shot at being captain since Jack Nicklaus (1983, ’87).

The Euros can’t seem to make a wrong call in the Ryder Cup anymore, but they’ll probably make a big mistake in failing to ask Colin Montgomerie to come back and lead them in his native Scotland in two years. Montgomerie proved an effective captain leading the victory at Celtic Manor in ’10, and he wants to return to skipper in his homeland, but he is on the record saying he does not expect to be asked.

By bringing Azinger back, the PGA has a chance to outsmart the Euros and give the Americans an early advantage.

Would Azinger be willing to reprise his role?

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Azinger told Golf Channel this week. “I just don’t know. If I were to be asked, I would probably consider it.”

Couples, 53, will lead the Americans as the Presidents Cup captain for a third consecutive time when the United States is host to the Internationals at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, next year. Couples led the Americans to lopsided President Cup routs in ’09 and ’11. The fact that he’s busy with Presidents Cup duties is problematic, but not that problematic with a good team around him. It’s almost the same job, really. The PGA Tour wouldn’t like it, but it would serve the greater good for American golf. It’s just wrong if Couples never leads a Ryder Cup team.

But Couples is an even longer shot than Azinger. The PGA isn’t going to name a Ryder Cup captain that the PGA Tour tabbed first for its Presidents Cup. That’s unfortunate. That’s just cutting your nose off to spite your face.

The most likely American choice, it seems, is David Toms.

Here’s how Las Vegas might handicap the possible captains if they were laying odds:

David Toms 2/1

He didn’t just win a major, he won a PGA Championship, helping to make him a priority choice to lead the Americans at Gleneagles in two years.

Toms, 45, is a 13-time PGA Tour winner who played on three American Ryder Cup teams (’02, ’04 and ’06). All three of those teams lost, two of them in record routs. Toms was 3-1-1 in the ’02 loss at The Belfry, where he was a bright spot for the Americans. He was 4-6-2 overall in Ryder Cup play. He is a well-respected and deserving choice, but he’s also young enough to wait should Azinger be named again.

Mark Calcavecchia 10/1

If Toms gets the nod, Calcavecchia’s time has probably already passed. If Toms is the pick, it would appear Calcavecchia is being skipped over. Calcavecchia, 52, is a 13-time PGA Tour winner with a British Open title (’89) among his wins. He played on four Ryder Cup teams (’87, ’89, ’91 and ’02), just one of those a winner. He is 6-7-1 in Ryder Cup play. He would liven up the interview room with his colorful take.

Paul Azinger 20/1

If anyone is equipped to battle the spirit of Seve Ballesteros, it’s Azinger, his Ryder Cup rival. Azinger “cracked the code” in helping the Americans break a string of three consecutive losses to the Euros in ’08. He is a proven skipper with the smarts, passion and strong personality needed to lead the USA on the road.

Justin Leonard 30/1

His role in helping the Americans’ epic comeback on that brilliant Sunday in ’99 makes him a lock for future captaincy, but, at 40, he is probably too young this time around. Leonard made that 45-foot putt on the 17th at Brookline in Sunday singles that helped seal the victory. He is a British Open champ who played on three Ryder Cup teams, two of them winners. He is 2-4-6 in Ryder Cup play.

Davis Love III 50/1

As a losing captain, Love will get nitpicked for decisions, but he was able to create the same kind of supportive environment that Azinger did. He didn’t fail his players as much as they failed him on Sunday. Still, he captained an American team that blew the Ryder Cup. It makes him a real long shot to return.

Fred Couples 100/1

The PGA of America won’t hire a guy the PGA Tour beat them to the punch to, and it won’t hire a guy who would be juggling two jobs as the ’13 Presidents Cup and ’14 Ryder Cup captains.

Larry Nelson 500/1

One of the great injustices of Ryder Cup captaincy is the fact that Nelson was never named captain. He won three majors, two of them PGA Championships. He was 9-3-1 on American teams that were 2-1. He is 65, and the PGA won’t right this wrong.