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
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
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    Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

    According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


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    Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

    Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

    And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

    Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


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    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.