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Tom Lehman is keeping his options open

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman has not ruled out the possibility of making the 12-man team for this year's event in Ireland.

Lehman lies 21st in the U.S. Cup standings and would need to climb into the top 10 by the end of the U.S. PGA Championship at Medinah, Illinois on Aug. 20 to qualify on merit.

"I've been saying all along we want to field the best 12 players that the U.S. has to offer, whoever they are," the 1996 British Open champion told reporters on Wednesday as he prepared for this week's Nissan Open.

"I would have to prove to myself that I'm playing really well. And I'd have to prove to the guys on the team that I'm playing well, and I would probably want their opinion.

"I would get a bunch of them together and see what they think.

"But that's so far down the road that it's pure conjecture. We simply want the best guys, whoever they are."

Lehman, who tied for seventh at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday, is excited by the early shape of his team to take on the Europe in the biennial competition.

Established players such as Tiger Woods (first), Phil Mickelson (second) and Jim Furyk (fifth) occupy the upper reaches of the Cup standings with debutant PGA Tour winners Arron Oberholser (sixth) and J.B. Holmes (10th) also in the reckoning.

Oberholser won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the big-hitting Holmes clinched the Phoenix Open two weeks ago.

"I think of this team as pretty God-darn strong," Lehman said. "If you told me to take the top-12 guys off that list and go to Ireland right now, I would be pretty happy with it.

"We still have a long way to go and the season just starting with the quadruple points, plus a little extra bonus for winning, it sure has shaken up the list.

"There are some names on there that you didn't see a few weeks ago, and for sure a year ago."

The U.S. qualifying system was revamped for this year's match after heavy criticism following the American team's thrashing by Europe at Oakland Hills in 2004.

The U.S, skippered by Hal Sutton, crashed to a record defeat at the hands of Bernhard Langer's Europeans by 18-½ points to 9-1/2.

The revamped U.S. points allocation puts far more emphasis on performance in the season of the competition, with quadruple points available for top-10 placings in PGA Tour events, although results from the previous year still count.

Ten players are selected directly from the points system with Lehman adding two captain's picks.

Win or lose, Lehman has set his sights on captaining a U.S. team that performs to the best of their ability.

"If we went over to Ireland and played a great match, our guys played phenomenal golf and were loose and focused and motivated, and they put on a great show and lost, how can you not feel good about that in some ways," the 46-year-old said.

"All you can ask for is for your team to be totally committed for everything they do for that entire week, and the whole process leading up to it."

The 36th Ryder Cup takes place at the K Club in County Kildare, Ireland from Sept. 22-24.



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