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Decision time looming for Ryder Cup captains

Hal Sutton is 12 days away from his most important decision as Ryder Cup captain, when he makes his two wild-card selections to fill out the American team. He doesn't know who he will pick, only the reaction that will follow.

``We just crave second-guessing, don't we?'' Sutton said Tuesday morning, looking around the table at a dozen reporters. ``I tell you what. That's the biggest, defeatist attitude. If we take that sort of attitude into the Ryder Cup, you can book it -- we will get beat. I will not allow the U.S. team to do that.

``We'll either be right or wrong. And that's all we can be.''

Sutton will never by mistaken for a wishy-washy captain. Ask him the one thing he can do to influence the outcome at the Ryder Cup on Sept. 17-19, and he quickly replies, ``Decisiveness.''

He is making all the decisions by himself, from the style of golf bag the caddies carry to the shirts the players wear to the order for the pivotal Sunday singles matches.

``Let me tell you how this is going to go, just so y'all know,'' he said, blue eyes blazing again. ``On Saturday afternoon, I will talk to (assistants) Jackie Burke and Steve Jones in a separate room. I will write the names down in the order they're going to play. I'll walk in and lay it down. And I'll walk out. That's exactly how we'll play.

``It's not going to be up to anybody else. And that's what I mean by being decisive.''

But who will be the wild-card picks?

That's where Mr. Decisive takes a seat on the fence.

He wants someone in top form and someone whose game best suits Oakland Hills. Asked which was more important, he offered a rare pause.

``I think it's equal,'' he finally said. ``I know I'm riding the fence on you. It doesn't make for good print. But honestly, it takes the guy playing the best whose game suits Oakland Hills.''

Next question: From No. 11 to No. 20 in the standings, who are the horses for this course?

Sutton picked up the latest Ryder Cup standings.

``Jeff Maggert. Scott Verplank. Stewart Cink. Jay Haas. Tim Herron. Todd Hamilton,'' he said, ticking off every name on the list and finally stopping after John Daly at No. 20.

Sutton, who has always stated his opinions with conviction, has reason to be so uncertain.

``I've said all along this won't be that difficult,'' he said. ``And each week, it gets a little harder.''

Despite playing through a foot injury, Verplank had a strong showing at the British Open and shot 66 on Sunday in the Buick Open to collect more points, moving up to No. 12. Sutton has watched him grind every week, and he likes what he sees.

Cink is one of only four players in that 11-20 slot who has won this year and was fifth last week at Warwick Hills.

Herron called Sutton to tell him he has Lyme Disease, but that he'll play the PGA Championship, anyway.

Jerry Kelly closed strong in a tie for eighth at the Buick Open to move into No. 10 in the standings. Not lost on Sutton is that Kelly and Jim Furyk (already a lock for the team) were the only two players at the Buick Open who drove over to Oakland Hills to play a practice round last week.

``In a driving rain,'' Sutton said. ``And they played all 18 holes.''

And then there's Hamilton, who went toe-to-toe with Ernie Els over the final two rounds and beat him in a four-hole playoff at the British Open.

``Winning a major the way he did, playing 40 holes with Ernie Els, would certainly be an eye-opening situation for any captain,'' Sutton said. ``I can't tell you whether I think Todd Hamilton is going to make the team. But he moved me.''

Sutton is being moved in all directions, and it's doubtful the dust will settle until after the International and the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the final two events to earn points.

Haas is the sentimental choice, a 50-year-old playing with the enthusiasm of a kid.

Daly is the people's choice, and his runner-up finish at the Buick Open again stirred emotions that the two-time major winner would be an excellent addition.

``He deserves consideration,'' Sutton said. ``But I'm not just looking at him. I'm looking at everything.''

As an example, he quizzed a reporter on the final round of the Buick Open.

``Did John Daly come closer to believing in himself because he played well, or did he doubt himself because he missed that putt on the 18th hole?'' Sutton said. ``That's the way I have to use that information.''

Then someone pointed out that Haas hasn't won a PGA Tour event in 11 years.

``He's played better golf than John Daly the last two years,'' Sutton replied. ``I'm only using John Daly as an example because that's the name everyone uses.''

Daly is the guy everyone wants on the Ryder Cup team. He is an intimidating presence off the tee, has an incredible short game that never gets its due and will add a million volts to an already amped-up gallery in Detroit.

Sutton said if fans were allowed to choose the wild-card selections, they would vote for Daly and Haas.

But this isn't a popularity contest.

They're called captain's picks for a reason.

And the only certainly is that once Sutton makes up his mind, he won't look back.

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