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Lehman confirmed as US Ryder Cup Captain

Former British Open champion Tom Lehman has been appointed U.S. Ryder Cup captain for the next match against Europe in 2006, the PGA of America said on Wednesday.

Lehman, who won the 1996 Open at Royal Lytham, takes over from Hal Sutton, whose team suffered a record defeat at the hands of Bernhard Langer's Europeans by 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2 at Oakland Hills in September.

The 45-year-old Lehman, who played in three Ryder Cups during the 1990s, held off the challenge of fellow major winners Mark O'Meara, Larry Nelson, Fred Couples and Corey Pavin for the captaincy.

He will lead the Americans, who have lost the last two matches, at the K Club in County Kildare, Ireland from September 22-24, 2006.

"What a thrill and an honour it is. Being the Ryder Cup captain is certainly beyond my wildest dreams," Lehman told a teleconference.

"The Ryder Cup, to me, is the ultimate golf experience. I have a real passion for the event.

"But we have a tough road ahead of us. Although we always go into the Ryder Cup as the favourites, four of the last five have been won by Europe.

"Without question, we will go to Ireland as the underdogs."

Lehman, who made his Ryder Cup debut at Oak Hill in 1995, was on the U.S. team that rallied in the last-day singles to win a turbulent match at Brookline in 1999 by 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2.

He was heavily criticised by the Europeans, and particularly by vice-captain Sam Torrance, for being among several U.S. players and spouses who famously charged across the 17th green shortly after Justin Leonard had holed out from 45 feet.

Leonard's opponent, Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, was still facing his own putt at the time which could have saved the overall match for Europe. By apparently stepping on Olazabal's "line", the Americans committed one of golf's cardinal sins.

Former world number one Tiger Woods, however, believes Lehman is an ideal choice to lead the Americans at the first Ryder Cup to be played on Irish soil.

"I think he'll be great," Woods told reporters on Tuesday as he prepared for this week's Tour Championship at Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club.

"He was one of the spearheads that we had at Valderrama and one of the leaders in the locker room at Brookline, so I think he'll do a great job.

"At least Tom is a contemporary of ours, and I've played on all my Ryder Cup teams basically with Tom," added Woods, a Ryder Cup player in 1997, 1999, 2002 and again this year.

"He's been my partner in Ryder Cup play. I think it's a good choice."

The PGA of America announced Lehman's appointment at its 86th annual meeting in Amelia Island, Florida.

The Europeans, who have a one-year qualification period for the Ryder Cup compared to the two-year system adopted by the U.S., will name their captain for the 2006 match next year.

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