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Contrasting Captains set for Ryder Cup duel

Golf fans can expect an intriguing contrast in captaincy styles for the second contest in a row when Europe defend the Ryder Cup against the U.S. in Ireland next week.

Two years ago at Oakland Hills, the ice-cool and meticulous Bernhard Langer led the Europeans to victory over an American team skippered by the passionate and plain-speaking Hal Sutton.

German Langer, a slightly built introvert renowned for his attention to detail, made it his number one priority that week to bring a positive attitude to the European locker room.

He always seemed to be one step ahead of Sutton and, with his players making key putts when it mattered most, was able to celebrate a record-equalling win by 18-½ points to 9-1/2.

Louisiana native Sutton, a larger-than-life extrovert and business graduate, was determined to be as decisive as possible with every aspect of his captaincy at Oakland Hills.

Wearing a cowboy hat for the opening matches, he opted for a high-risk dream pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to give his team a flying start. Woods and Mickelson, however, lost twice on the first day and the U.S. never recovered.

When the 36th Ryder Cup starts next Friday at the K Club outside Dublin, the Americans will be led by Tom Lehman and the Europeans by Ian Woosnam, both former world number ones.

Although they are proven campaigners as Cup players and share a similar level of intensity and commitment, their differences are more striking than their similarities.

Lehman, a committed Christian who stands more than six foot tall, is more of a Langer-style captain who pays close attention to detail.

A feature of his build-up to this Ryder Cup has been constant communication with his players and he pulled off a master stroke at the end of last month when he took his entire team on a two-day trip to the K Club to strengthen bonding.

Woosnam, a diminutive Welshman who loves sharing a few beers with his mates, is a gutsy and popular player who wears his heart on his sleeve.

Unlike Lehman, though, he has been much more hands-off on the communication front and made no contact at all with several European Ryder Cup hopefuls before his team was decided nine days ago.

However, 1991 Masters champion Woosnam is a veteran of eight Ryder Cups as a player and is entirely comfortable with his captaincy approach.

"I feel like I'm in control of what I'm doing," he told a news conference earlier this month after announcing his two wildcard picks.

"I've been in the team room many times and I've been a vice-captain. I've seen how it's worked before, and I'll carry on the way it's happened before."

Woosnam has set his sights on guiding Europe to a record third consecutive Cup triumph over the Americans. Sam Torrance captained the 2002 side to victory at The Belfry in England before Langer led the Europeans to success at Oakland Hills.

"I would like to create a little history," Woosnam added. "Europe has held the Ryder Cup three successive times, because we tied in 1989 after winning in 1985 and 1987, but we have never won three successive matches.

"I need to follow on from Sam and Bernhard's fantastic achievements in 2002 and 2004."

Lehman accepts the Americans will be the underdogs at the K Club but feels no pressure to succeed as captain.

"I know that I've done basically all I can do to win," the 1996 British Open champion told a news conference in New York on Tuesday.

"I went to the Presidents Cup to watch the guys play. I visited people, talked to people. I encouraged guys to do things together and I've hosted barbeques and organised a trip to Ireland.

"I feel there isn't a lot more I could have done to this point to get our guys ready to play. I feel really good about the way we have prepared for this.

"I know the guys have poured their heart and soul and they are going to play hard. That's all you can ask."

The continuity of Woosnam against the meticulous preparation by Lehman. One of them will lead to Ryder Cup victory at the K Club in 12 days' time.

September 13, 2006

 




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