Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Azinger's First Draft Troops - The Men who made it on their own steam

Paul Azinger won widespread acclaim for his ballsy move to change to four wild card picks from two. It would free him to pick the best of the bunch at the time, those truly on form right before the event. He couldn't have envisaged that he would reach this stage and find himself faced with a relative dearth of players in form, his headache firmly in the 'who the hell should I pick' camp, rather than the 'who the hell should I leave out' problem which Nick Faldo faces. Faldo's problem was recently eased by the likes of Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia hauling their way up into automatic qualifictaion. What would Azinger have given for some displays like that. (Ben Curtis doesn't count, as I shall try to explain). Those he has at his disposal seem a decent starting point for the most part; let’s have a look who made it automatically and try to find the positives for poor old Paul.

US Ryder Cup team - top eight automatic qualifiers
1 Phil Mickelson – Big Phil finds himself as the main man this year with the injured Tiger on the sidelines. This could be the making of him as a Ryder Cup player. When he and Tiger failed in their two matches when paired together, in a decision so crazy from Hal Sutton it just had to work, the blame was cast firmly on Mickelson’s hunched shoulders. Perhaps without Tiger he will grab the role of figurehead and try to remind Padraig Harrington that he is still the No.2 player in the world and lead the yanks to a much needed win. He has though the most miserable of Ryder Cup Records, winning ½ a point from a possible 5 in 2006…

2 Stewart Cink – One man Azinger will be glad to see included in his team is Stewart Cink. He defeated Garcia in the singles last time out, when the Spaniard was on course to get a perfect 5 out of 5 points for the week. Also managed to draw three of his four other matches, losing one. He is also sitting pretty at the top of the All around rankings so there ain’t many weaknesses in his game right now.

3 Kenny Perry –
This man missed majors this year, saying that his only goal was to make the Ryder Cup team. He did it early with 3 great wins, including the Memorial and the John Deere Classic and in that little period was the form player in the world. There can be no doubting his motivation when the time comes, he is up for it like a man possessed, a quality which has been sorely lacking in the American team in recent times. Azinger will be hoping his Ryder Cup fervour is infectious.

4 Jim Furyk –
Furyk has been one of the players to emerge from the maulings that have been the Ryder cup with his reputation intact. He’s had his losses but a good portion of the American wins appear next to his name (though he was with Tiger for the most of them). He’s a tough competitor, hard to beat and will be one of the big guns they need firing if they are to wrestle the cup back from Europe

5 Anthony Kim –
Raw Talent. An unknown prospect at the start of the year, he’s now seen as one of the few reasons for hope on the American side. Probably the most complete young star to emerge since Tiger, he’s had no fear of winning. Big triumphs at Wachovia and the AT&T and strong challenges in others, including the Open, make him a rookie that no-one is worried to see on the teamsheet. Could he be the Ryder Cup hero they've been looking for? The American Sergio? He'll have to go some to get that moniker...

6 Justin Leonard -
The last man to sink a winning putt for America at the Ryder Cup, a 45 footer in 1999 which triggered premature celebrations on the green when Olazabal had a chance still to tie, but still it was a winning putt. He hasn’t been to a Ryder Cup since so they’ll be hoping he's a lucky charm. One win on the Tour this year and an experienced head but having played 8 matches in the Ryder Cup he has yet to actually win one. Will not be giving Europeans sleepless nights.

7 Ben Curtis –
The great finish he made to the qualification period doesn’t hide the fact that he did little throughout the rest of it. The fact there were only two other top ten finishes this year for Ben, 2nd at Wachovia and 7th at the Open, makes you wonder if Azinger really was so elated to have him at Valhalla. I guess they were all big tournaments he did well in but he’s not the kind of player Azinger was really hoping would jump on board at the last minute, surely, certainly not one of the men you’d have expected to get a pick. Could be a weak link…

8 Boo Weekley –
Boo has had one win in a steady season with five top tens. That win came at the Verizon Heritage which was where he won his only tournament last year too (a few quid on three in a row next year seems a good bet!). Not a man in love with golf, he prefers hunting and fishing but he sure loves America so he might be able to provide a bit of National pride to the side and do it for his country. He also came out openly and said he’d love to take on and take down Padraig Harrington. Be careful what you wish for Boo…

All in all it’s not as bad a make up as some are making out ,although far from stellar looking or as packed with Major winners as previous years. Until you look at some cold hard stats. In fact, none of the men listed here can boast a record above 50% in Ryder Cup matches, while there are three Ryder cup newbies, Anthony Kim, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekley. So next I’ll be looking at who Azinger can draft in and asking if he should go for some wise old heads or draft in some new young blood to bolster his squad. It’s a tricky conundrum he’s set for himself and one I'll be struggling to answer…

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