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Presidents Cup teams finalised

Paul Azinger, a cancer survivor with a passion for country and match play, made it back to team competition today when Ken Venturi made him a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup.

Venturi also selected Loren Roberts, a short hitter but pure putter, to round off the 12-man team that will try to win back the cup from an International team Oct. 19-22 at the Robert Trent Jones Club in Virginia.

Peter Thomson used his captain's picks on two Australians - Robert Allenby and Steve Elkington, who had to withdraw from the PGA Championship last week and plans to have hip surgery. Thomson said he expected Elkington to be fine for the matches.

The International team, comprised of players born outside Europe, handed the Americans their worst beating ever in professional team competition two years ago at Royal Melbourne in Australia, 20-1/2-11-1/2.

Both teams were decided after the PGA Championship.

The 10 players who automatically qualified for the United States were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Hal Sutton, David Duval, Davis Love III, Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Kirk Triplett, Notah Begay and Stewart Cink.

For Triplett, Begay and Cink, it will be their first appearances in any professional cup.

The International team consists of Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Nick Price, Carlos Franco, Michael Campbell, Stuart Appleby, Mike Weir, Shigeki Maruyama, Greg Norman and Retief Goosen.

In three Ryder Cup appearances, Azinger never lost in singles. His last competition before he was diagnosed with lymphoma in his left shoulder was a halve against Nick Faldo at The Belfry in 1993.

``He's a leader, he's a team man, he's a wonderful match player,'' Venturi said. ``I feel this could be his swan song, and I'll get more than 100 percent from him.''

Azinger was No. 24 in the Presidents Cup standings, determined by PGA Tour earnings over the past two years, with money counting double in 2000. Left off the team was Chris Perry, No. 12 in the standings, and Ryder Cup hero Justin Leonard.

Roberts, 11th in the standings, had a nine-stroke victory in Milwaukee earlier this year and has solid match-play credentials. He was 2-1-1 in the '94 Presidents Cup, and went 3-1-0 in the Ryder Cup a year later.

Roberts was ninth going into the PGA Championship, but tied for 58th and was bumped out by Notah Begay. Roberts wasn't optimistic about making the team.

``I've been playing really consistent all year,'' he said Sunday. ``But it's been a long summer, and unfortunately I ran out of gas one week too soon.''

The previous two U.S. captains, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, have chosen the 11th and 12th players in the standings. Venturi, by dipping down to No. 24 to get Azinger, passed up Perry, David Toms, John Huston and Leonard.

Perry was in position to make the team, but a two-shot swing on the 72nd hole of the Buick Open two weeks ago - he made bogey and Rocco Mediate made birdie - cost him a victory and, ultimately, a spot on his first U.S. team.

``I've been in the hunt a lot and, yeah, I haven't come through a lot. But get me in an atmosphere like that and I'm going to be like a Payne Stewart or Hal Sutton. If they just want me sitting on the sidelines, that's fine. I'll be out there cheering with my pom-pons ready to go.''

For Leonard, it marks the first time he has failed to make a U.S. team since 1995. While he has never won a singles match in the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup, he hit one of the most famous shots in golf last year at The Country Club.

Leonard holed a 45-foot putt on the 17th hole to clinch the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history as the Americans beat Europe.

But the 1997 British Open champion has not won since his victory two years ago in The Players Championship.

``That's one of the hard things you have to do,'' Venturi said about his decision to leave Leonard off the team.

Thomson's team will represent a record eight countries - Australia, Fiji, South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Paraguay, Canada and Japan.

The International team was decided by world rankings among eligible players. Allenby has won twice on the PGA Tour this year and got up to 11th in the standings with his tie for 18th at Valhalla Golf Club.

Elkington was No. 11 on the list going into the PGA, but dropped to No. 17 when he withdrew to have hip surgery.

``Greg Norman had the same treatment on his hip,'' Thomson said. ``It seems to be a miracle cure.''

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