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Lehman ready for late Ryder Cup call

Tom Lehman doubts he will get the call to be a last-minute injury replacement for the Ryder Cup, but the 43-year-old American is ready and willing if the opportunity arises.

The United States will defend the trophy next month against Europe at The Belfry in England. The matches were postponed a year following the terrorist attacks upon New York and Washington last September 11.

US and European lineups will remain the same as planned a year ago, when Lehman finished one place out of an automatic Ryder Cup berth and Curtis Strange made Paul Azinger and Scott Verplank his US captain's choices.

If one of the 10 US players who qualified on points becomes injured and unable to play in the matches, Lehman would move onto the squad as first alternate.

"Would I be ready to play? Of course I would," Lehman said. "It would be a thrill to go play. Certainly you wouldn't want to do it and the expense of someone else being sick or hurt of whatever."

Hal Sutton and Scott Hoch have been mentioned as US players who might not be able to participate due to injuries. Sutton has slid to 109th in the world rankings. Hoch is 20th.

Should a captain's choice be ill or injured, Strange could choose anyone he desired. Asked if he thought his relationship with Strange was strong enough to be chosen, Lehman replied, "How do you answer that one? Well, no."

"You know, I fully expect that the 12 guys who made the team are going to be the 12 guys who tee it up," Lehman said. "They all deserve the right to go play for the United States. They have earned it. I would prefer it greatly if all 12 of those guys went over there and played."

World number one Tiger Woods and second-ranked Phil Mickelson pace a team that also includes Davis Love, David Duval, Jim Furyk and David Toms, who opens defense of his PGA Championship crown here Thursday at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

Lehman, who played in the past three Ryder Cups, was not playing well in the weeks before the final roster was set. While unhappy at the captain's choice snub, Lehman said the terrorist attacks helped put things in a different light.

"Of course it was disappointing," Lehman said. "That's a year ago. A lot has happened in the past year. I think everybody — at least I have, especially with what happened last September — kind of puts the right perspective in your head to put away your frustrations and move on.

"Life is too short to hold onto resentments or grudges or anger or disappointments. You just move on.

"I wish the team all the success in the world. They have a great squad. I'm sure they are going to go over and play very well. They have a great captain. They will be just fine without me."

Several US players' fortunes have waned since they made the Ryder Cup squad. Azinger dropped to 38th in the rankings. Mark Calcavecchia is 45th, two spots ahead of Stewart Cink.

For Europe, Lee Westwood has tumbled to 139th, Sweden's Pierre Fulke to 102nd, Philip Price of Wales to 87th and Ireland's Paul McGinley to 64th. Major winners Nick Faldo, Paul Lawrie and Jose Maria Olazabal are improved but not in the lineup.

Yet Lehman expects the intensity of the Cup competition to bring out the best in everyone on both sides.

"I don't think it really matters," Lehman said. "Once you get in that environment, which is very exciting, very electric, the adrenaline starts pumping. You can be playing very poorly going in and suddenly your game kicks into gear.

"There's really nothing like the atmosphere of a Ryder Cup, which is what I'm going to miss, being part of that."

Lehman began the last-day US comeback in 1999 at Brookline, Massachusetts, when the hosts made the greatest final-day comeback in Cup history in matches where US hecklers and players celebrating prematurely tested the bounds of civility.

"I expect this year's Ryder Cup will be conducted very competitively and I'm sure the atmosphere will be a little more dignified, a little more respectful of each other," Lehman said.

"But still, country against country does bring out competitiveness. It will be exciting."

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