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Sutton won't be a statistics captain

For golf fans, the fun of the Ryder Cup often goes beyond the shots struck.

Golf is an individual sport that once every two years becomes a team game and allows the fans to partake in many of the things normally associated with the other sports, such as quarterback controversies, choosing lineups and second-guessing the coach.

At the Ryder Cup, there are two most intriguing player issues.

* Which two players will be the captain's picks?

* What will the pairings look like? The final decisions in both instances are the responsibility of the captain, Hal Sutton.

Sutton isn't a stats man. With 13 months still remaining before he must make those decisions -- the wild-card picks come first -- Sutton isn't allowing himself to get bogged down.

His decisions on behalf of the United States team for the 2004 Ryder Cup Match at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills will be made as much on feel and the moment as anything else.

"To me, stats are meaningless," Sutton said. "Truth is, we're going to have different players, different courses every time. It's matching strengths at that point. It's realizing who will be the best together at that time on that golf course. I'm not sure past statistics prove that much. They might."

The points available to earn one of the 10 automatic spots on the team will triple in value in 2004 to better reflect the players' performance nearer the matches. Sutton is paying little attention on who stands where each week.

"I get (the player standings) each week on e-mail," Sutton said. "I glance down, look at it, see the changes, and then I delete it.

"It's meaningless at this point. There are going to be so many more points earned next year."

But already the top half of the team is a virtual certainty: Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Toms, Jim Furyk, Ken Perry. A few others are closing in, but those players will be the core of the team. The rest will be identified over the next year, and Sutton will add two captain's choices.

When all that is done and he has his 12-man team, the next critical decision will be the lineup and the pairings. Every captain has his own ideas of how the players should be paired. Some of the considerations are temperament, friendships, style of play, whether some players prefer to sleep in or play at the crack of dawn and even equipment.

Past captains have conjured up partnerships based on which players are using what golf ball so that the transition in alternate shot matches is seamless. Alternate shot, or foursomes, and four-balls (best ball) are the two formats used in pairings. There are four foursomes and four four-ball matches in each of the first two days of competition and 12 singles matches on the final day.

"Pairings are obviously important, but I really believe there will be a lot of work done leading up to it, both on the players' part and on my part, which will establish where we're at in terms of being ready to play or not being ready to play," Sutton said.

"I think that's one thing the Europeans have done a nice job on, and one of the things the writers have picked up on is that it looks like they're more of a team when they get there. I don't know if that's something they've done prior to that. I don't know. It's widely publicized that the Americans look like a bunch of individuals playing out there, and they look like more of a team."

Sutton has available to him "a few things that might help in that situation" to bring his squad together.

"When I get a better idea of who's going to be making the team, we might invite 15 or 20 guys to dinner," he said. "Some guys who might make the team and some guys we're sure are going to make it."


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