AZINGER’S ‘WINNERS’ SET TO BE LOSERS
Mark Garrod examines the strength of the European and American Ryder Cup teams.
From early on in his captaincy Paul Azinger said he wanted winners on his team and pointed to the fact that in the recent past Europe always seemed to have more of them.
Well this time the United States have more of them, seven to four.
But that might just be the only thing in Azinger’s favour. The side he leads out at Valhalla in two weeks’ time may be full of multi-millionaires, but they will go under a different name there – underdogs.
Impressive though several Europeans have been on the big stage – most notably Padraig Harrington, of course – only four of Nick Faldo’s line-up have actually tasted victory this year.
Harrington with his two majors, Sergio Garcia with the Players Championship, Miguel Angel Jimenez with the BMW PGA at Wentworth and Graeme McDowell in Korea and Scotland.
For America Kenny Perry has won three times, Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim twice and Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink, Boo Weekley and JB Holmes once.
Yet the last of those 11 titles was eight weeks ago. Europe are the ones with all 12 in the world’s top 50 right now. Instead of running hot into the match, a lot of the Americans have gone cold.
They do not have Tiger Woods in their ranks either, remember. And while the world number one has not exactly set the event alight in his five appearances, he was their top scorer last time and Faldo was expecting him to have a big one.
Azinger named his four wild cards today and it was impossible for him to hide the fact that the quartet – Steve Stricker, Holmes, Hunter Mahan and Chad Campbell – got the calls after a month when many other candidates could have been mistaken for being away on holiday.
Stricker was a no-brainer because he is America’s third-ranked player and somehow slipped through the qualifying net.
Holmes is a “bomber” and a home state boy – he did, however, have a closing 81 when lying second in the US PGA – while Mahan and Campbell are “terrific ball-strikers”. Do not expect any Europeans to lose sleep over their inclusion.
While the row over Darren Clarke’s exclusion will rumble on to the match and quite possibly right through it, most American fans will accept Azinger’s choices because nobody else had a claim like Clarke’s.
The most unlucky one? Perhaps Rocco Mediate, who played his part in the five-day drama that was the US Open and so nearly got the better of Woods. He has not had a top 50 in his last four starts, though.
So Azinger is without a Tiger, but he did describe Mahan as “a young lion” when he named him.
That is not how the Californian is known to most golf followers, though. He is the guy who only a month ago in a magazine interview reckoned players become “slaves” in Ryder Cup week and hinted at a possible future boycott.
He regrets it now and says how much he is looking forward to the match, but he said it and he presumably meant it without realising the consequences of saying it.
Actually, it could have helped him earn a pick. Azinger may like the fact that Mahan will have an axe to grind, a point to prove at Valhalla.
It might just stoke him up in a way that Azinger played his golf at his prime too. According to Seve Ballesteros – no saint himself, of course – the 1991 United States team were “11 nice guys and Paul Azinger”.
Home advantage was supposed to count for something too. But America’s captain has given up on setting up the course in a way that will favour his men because he cannot think of a way in which it would.
“That’s out of the window,” he said. “If I felt I could create an advantage I would go for it, but I don’t see that.”
That is a huge admission.
Phil Mickelson primed for another shot at history at Torrey Pines
The American recently became the oldest winner in major championship history.
Sam Horsfield tied for lead with Christine Wolf at inaugural Scandinavian Mixed
The event is a first on the European Tour as it features 78 men and 78 women competing for one prize fund and one trophy.
The Palmetto Championship: Is Brooks Koepka a poor punt before a Major?
Will the American be distracted ahead of the US Open at Torrey Pines?
Brooks Koepka insists rivalry with Bryson DeChambeau is ‘good for the game’
The pair are Ryder Cup team-mates.
England’s Meghan MacLaren eager to compete against men in Scandinavian Mixed
Hosted by Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson, the £860,000 event is a first on the European Tour.
Q&A: Key questions answered surrounding Premier Golf League’s proposals
The Premier Golf League have outlined their proposals for a new, Formula One-style global competition featuring the top 48 male players in the world.
Danny Willett undergoes surgery after suffering with appendicitis
The 33-year-old Englishman said in a post on his official Twitter account that the operation also removed a hernia.
US Open betting clues: what some of the top players are saying about Torrey Pines
A look at what the leading stars are saying about this month’s US Open venue.
Emotional Marcus Armitage finally achieves his winning dream in Hamburg
Armitage stormed through the field with a closing 65 to finish on eight under par and claim his first European Tour title.
Marcus Armitage wins first European Tour title after superb final day in Hamburg
The Englishman clinched the title with a closing 65.