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Paul Azinger set to announce US Ryder Cup picks

After grappling with one of the toughest decisions he faces as U.S. captain, Paul Azinger will announce his four wildcard picks on Tuesday for this month’s Ryder Cup against Europe.

Steve Stricker, who finished ninth in the U.S. Cup standings and one place outside the automatic qualifiers, is expected to be first in line.

Other possible contenders include twice Ryder Cup player Scott Verplank, big-hitting J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan, 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, D.J. Trahan, Woody Austin, Sean O’Hair and Brandt Snedeker.

Azinger’s biggest problem is that very few American players outside the automatic eight have maintained consistent form over the last few months.

Immediately after being named U.S. captain in November, he upped the number of wildcard picks from two to four to give himself the hottest players but that strategy hinged on red-hot players being available for selection.

Anthony Kim, one of the eight who has already earned his place as rookie on the U.S. team, does not envy Azinger’s task.

“I don’t want to be in his shoes for sure,” Kim told reporters at the Deutsche Bank Championship which finished on Monday.

“I think it would be easier if he just had two picks. You need to pick a couple veterans, Steve Stricker or Scott Verplank, those guys come to mind, and guys like Hunter Mahan.

“A couple of younger guys and a couple of veterans. I’m just throwing out names. I haven’t looked at their stats or anything.

“If the guys play well, you’re a genius; if they don’t, you made a huge mistake. It’s a tough decision.”

Jim Furyk, who has played on the last five U.S. teams, countered Kim’s view that four wildcards was too many.

“Honestly, I like the four picks,” the former world number two said. “Paul is full of confidence. He’s a tough competitor and he changed the system because he felt like it gave us the best opportunity to get the 12 best guys on the team.

“He went in there and had enough guts to change the system, say that it was wrong, he’d be captain but this is what I need, this is what I want.”

Azinger is scheduled to announce his four picks in a teleconference at a Manhattan hotel starting at around 1000 local (1400 GMT) on Tuesday.

The eight U.S. players who have already qualified for the Sept. 19-21 Ryder Cup are: Stewart Cink, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Furyk, Kim, Ben Curtis, Justin Leonard and Boo Weekley.


September 2, 2008

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