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Golf Notes October 8th

U.S. captain Hal Sutton won't hesitate to bench a player if it means winning the Ryder Cup, and he disagrees with a Solheim Cup rule that everyone has to play at least once before Sunday singles.

''That should be left up to the captain,'' Sutton said. ''I went to (Ben) Crenshaw in '99 and said, 'Let's play to win.' In the past, I think we wanted to make sure everybody plays, but that's not the way Europe plays. They play to win.''

Sutton said he also told Curtis Strange at The Belfry last year to bench him if that would help the Americans. Sutton wound up playing twice, while Paul Azinger only played once before Sunday.

While European captain Bernhard Langer said each captain should decide how to use his 12 players, he thought Mark James made a mistake by sitting out three rookies until Sunday in the '99 matches at The Country Club.

Jarmo Sandelin, Andrew Coltart and Jean Van de Velde were all soundly beaten on the final day, contributing to the Americans' comeback to win the cup.

Four of the seven Europeans who played all four team matches also were beaten in singles.

''It was not real smart to leave the rookies totally out and throw them in on Sunday. I don't think that's the greatest thing to do,'' Langer said. ''Obviously, you're running the risk if you play the same eight guys all week. They're going to be tired. You're looking at 36 holes the first two days, and the Ryder Cup is known to take a long time.''

Sutton and Langer did agree on one thing: No matter which teams wins the cup or how soon, all 12 of the singles matches will be played in their entirety.

That wasn't the case earlier this month at the Solheim Cup in Sweden, where the final five matches were conceded by the player who was behind, resulting in a 17½-10½ victory for Europe, the largest margin in Solheim Cup history.

Sutton and Langer discussed the peculiar ending Monday before their news conference at Oakland Hills, site of next year's Ryder Cup.

''We're going to continue to the 18th hole because everyone bought tickets,'' Sutton said. ''We feel everyone deserves a chance to watch.''

If the cup has been decided and the final match reaches the 18th hole, Sutton said he and Langer can decide how that match should end.

Easy does it
Ernie Els considers London to be his primary residence because it is central to everywhere he goes -- which is everywhere.

Still, the Big Easy might start changing his schedule to play more on the PGA Tour.

His 4-year-old daughter is about to start school, and Els said the globe-trotting schedule he kept the last 10 years needs to change.

He still plans to start the year in Hawaii and has another year left of the Heineken Classic and Johnnie Walker in Australia.

''I'm really trying to work my daughter's schedule with mine,'' he said. ''I still would like to play more in America, and I think from next year onwards it will probably start happening.''

Els is No. 8 on the money list despite playing only 14 times on the PGA Tour -- the fewest among players in the top 10. He also leads the European tour Order of Merit.

Perspective on greatness
Annika Sorenstam won for the 47th time on the LPGA Tour, is headed toward another $2 million season and will qualify for the Hall of Fame next week on her 33rd birthday.

Clearly, she is the best player of her generation.

But the best ever?

It takes 46-year-old Beth Daniel to put that in perspective, which Daniel did after finishing one stroke behind Sorenstam at the Safeway Classic.

''I'm not taking anything away from anyone, but as far as shotmakers and the best female player I've ever seen, nobody touches Mickey Wright,'' she said.

Daniel competed against Wright and Kathy Whitworth as a rookie in 1979. She played against JoAnne Carner in her prime, and her peers were Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan, Amy Alcott and Juli Inkster, all of them in the Hall of Fame.

Where does she rank Sorenstam?

''She's No. 1 in the world right now. She's been No. 1 in the world for a long time, and she definitely knows how to finish a golf tournament,'' Daniel said. ''But you have to realize, I've seen a lot of the really great players.''

Best player?
Masters champion Mike Weir is among the leading candidates for PGA Tour Player of the Year, which is a vote of the players. He expects that to go down to the final week at the Tour Championship.

Another tight race is Canadian male athlete of the year.

Weir or Eric Gagne?

''That's a tough one,'' said Weir, the first Canadian to win a major championship.

Gagne, the Los Angeles Dodgers' relief ace, set a record with 57 consecutive saves and was 55-for-55 this year.

''That's an incredible feat,'' Weir said. ''But there's never been a Canadian win a major.''

His vote?

''Probably Eric Gagne,'' he said.

Major success
Ten players made the cut in all four majors this year, but special distinction goes to Masters champion Mike Weir, Ernie Els and Kenny Perry. They were the only players to finish in the top 10 in three majors.

The others to make every major cut this year were Vijay Singh (two top 10s), Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Charles Howell III, Fred Couples, Len Mattiace and Angel Cabrera.

Woods has never missed the cut at a major as a pro, but this year was only the third time he had only one top-10 finish, a tie for fourth at the British Open.

Lorena Ochoa of Mexico will become rookie of the year on the LPGA Tour this week at the Longs Drug Challenge, the final full-field event of the year. Ochoa clinched the points-based award in Tulsa in September. She has six top 10s this year and is eighth on the LPGA money list. ... Annika Sorenstam is only the fourth woman to have gone four straight years with at least five victories. The others were Louise Suggs (1952-55), Mickey Wright (1960-64) and Kathy Whitworth (1965-69).

Stat of the week
The last two times the Chicago Cubs made the playoffs, Tiger Woods failed to win a major.

Final word
"I'm 180th in driving distance out here. If I had one, who would know?''
-- Loren Roberts, asked about hot drivers on the PGA Tour.

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