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Pressure already felt by Tom Lehman

Although the Ryder Cup is more than four months away, U.S. captain Tom Lehman is beginning to feel the heat.

The 46-year-old American retains his desire to make the team as a player but concedes the mental preparation required for the biennial competition has taken its toll.

"In order to play good golf, you have to be so single-minded," Lehman told reporters on Wednesday as he prepared for this week's Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas.

"Earlier in the year it was pretty easy to be single-minded because there wasn't a whole lot going on Ryder Cup-related.

"Now, as the heat is slowly turning up, I find a lot of my preparation time is being consumed by brain time thinking about Ryder Cup stuff," added the 1997 British Open champion, who produced some of his best golf in nearly a decade earlier this season.

"It's hard to prepare properly for a tournament if you don't do it both physically and mentally."

Lehman needs to make the top 10 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings by the end of the U.S. PGA Championship at Medinah, Illinois on Aug. 20 to qualify for the team on merit.

After finishing no higher than joint 27th in his last four PGA Tour starts, he has slipped to 15th in the Cup list.

"That's a big if at this point in time," Lehman said of his prospects of representing the U.S. at the K Club in County Kildare, Ireland from September 22-24. "But golf is a game of momentum.

"I could go out this week and play great golf, turn it around and be right back in that mode again, just chugging along, playing great and making things all work.

"One good swing of the club sometimes is all it takes to get back in the groove, and one good round and you're off and running again.

"But I'm going to stick to what I have been saying is that we want our 12 best guys (at the K Club)."

A veteran of three Ryder Cups as a player, Lehman has been frustrated by his drop in form since making three consecutive top-seven finishes on the PGA Tour in February.

"I didn't play well at Augusta and made the cut last week even though I played what I consider to be quite poorly," he said of his performances at the U.S. Masters and Wachovia Championship.

He missed the cut at Augusta National and tied for 35th at the Wachovia.

Regardless of his own form, though, Lehman is excited about the general shape of his 12-man team for the K Club.

"The best players are coming to the top and they always do," he said while looking at the latest U.S. Cup standings. "No matter what the system, the best players are always going to end up on top.

"I look at this and what I see is (Tiger) Woods, (Phil) Mickelson, (Jim) Furyk, (David) Toms and (Chad) Campbell, the top-five guys you would expect to be there.

"Then you go down and you've got Davis Love and Fred Couples and Scott Verplank at 12 and (Chris) DiMarco is at 14, guys you would expect to be close are either in there or very close."

Lehman was also delighted to see younger players such as Lucas Glover (sixth) and Vaughn Taylor (ninth) in the top 10, golfers he described as hugely talented and "very tough-minded" competitors.

"But I think, with three majors coming up, there's going to be a lot of moving and shaking through the summer," he added.



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