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Eight down, four to go for Azinger

US Ryder Cup chief Paul Azinger is left to make four captain's picks after the top eight players in the US Ryder Cup standings earned a spot on the team after the conclusion of the US PGA Championship on Sunday.

As of now, Azinger knows he will go to Valhalla and try and win back the Ryder Cup with Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekley.

On September 2, Azinger will announce the four players he has chosen to round out the team and he was grateful that he did not have to make the decision Monday at Oakland Hills.

"I'm really happy that I don't have to pick four players this morning, I can tell you that," Azinger said.

"It would have been very difficult to know what to do.

"I think the selection process has worked so far. I'm really excited about who we have on the team. The next three weeks are going to be really important for the remainder of the PGA Tour because as I look at it right now anybody can get on this team."

Azinger will consider anybody because almost nobody from the pool of prospective American players distinguished themselves this week except for Curtis, who finished tied for second behind Padraig Harrington.

Curtis jumped into the seventh spot in the standings with his performance to earn an automatic spot on the team. The 2003 Open champion, Curtis held the 54-hole lead and was in the hunt down the stretch on Sunday, something that caught Azinger's attention.

"I've had my eye on Ben Curtis for a long time and I really believe that Ben Curtis is going to add a lot to this team. So I could not be more excited for him," Azinger said.

"I have not talked to him yet, and it's going to be kind of like a consolation prize a little bit for him. He played terrific this week. He didn't lose the PGA, Padraig Harrington went out and won it and Ben played terrific all the way to the end."

Aside from Curtis, most American players had a rough go of it this week. Only Mickelson and Steve Flesch finished in the top 10 and a number of potential candidates for the captain's picks imploded, especially on Sunday.

JB Holmes was the 36-hole leader but shot an 81 in the fourth round to tumble out of contention.

Rocco Mediate gave his candidacy a push with a stirring performance at the US Open, where he pushed Tiger Woods in a play-off that went 19 holes, but he shot 85 in the fourth round and finished next to last among all players to make the cut.

Azinger made the cut this week as well, so he got to see how brutal Oakland Hills was first hand.

After playing the course for four rounds, Azinger said he would not hold this week against anyone and that the three events between now and the selections would be key.

"This is a hard golf course. I played it. I made the cut and endured four days of this golf course, so I think we are all licking our wounds a little bit," Azinger said.

"And I'm not going to put a whole lot of weight on what happened yesterday or what happened the first two days.

"You know, a couple guys who are, let's say Woody Austin and Hunter Mahan played terrible the first two days, but I can throw that away if they play decent any of the next three weeks, I'll have my eyes on them, as well as anybody else."

U.S. Ryder Cup points list after Sunday's PGA Championship with the top eight players earning automatic berths on the U.S. team for next month's matches against holders Europe

1 Phil Mickelson 5,342.500 points
2 Stewart Cink 4,952.665
3 Kenny Perry 4,480.700
4 Jim Furyk 4,423.892
5 Anthony Kim 4,035.296
6 Justin Leonard 3,379.274
7 Ben Curtis 3,120.061
8 Boo Weekley 2,785.095

(Still in contention for the four captain's picks)
9 Steve Stricker 2,663.568
10 Woody Austin 2,422.983
11 D.J. Trahan 2,372.566
12 Hunter Mahan 2,304.517
13 Sean O'Hair 2,282.822
14 Rocco Mediate 2,273.660
15 Brandt Snedeker 2,248.887
16 Zach Johnson 2,184.508

Following are brief profiles of the eight players who have automatically qualified to represent the United States at next month's Ryder Cup. US Captain Paul Azinger will make four wildcard picks on September 2 to complete the 12-man team.

Phil Mickelson
Age: 38 World ranking: 2 PGA Tour victories: 34 Major victories: 3 Previous Ryder Cups: 6 teams (1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006) Ryder Cup record: 9-12-4. possesses a brilliant short game and utilises great imagination to scramble out of danger when tee shots go awry. Has won three majors since breaking through at 2004 Masters, and two PGA Tour titles this year.

Stewart Cink
Age: 35 World ranking: 9 PGA Tour victories: 5 Major victories: 0 Previous Ryder Cups: 3 teams (2002, 2004, 2006) Ryder Cup record: 3-5-4. A veteran of three Presidents Cups, is considered a safe pair of hands in team golf. Biggest victory came at the 2004 WGC-NEC Invitational. Has posted six top-10s on the 2008 PGA Tour, including victory at the Travelers Championship.

Kenny Perry
Age: 47 World ranking: 17 PGA Tour victories: 12 Major victories: 0 Previous Ryder Cups: 1 team (2004) Ryder Cup record: 0-2-0. One of the hottest players on the PGA Tour this year with three victories. Has played on two Presidents Cup teams and built his entire 2008 season around making the Ryder Cup team in his native Kentucky.

Jim Furyk
Age: 38 World ranking: 13 PGA Tour victories: 13 Major victories: 1 Previous Ryder Cups: 5 teams (1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006). Ryder Cup record: 6-12-2. A straight-shooter despite an unorthodox, loopy swing. Also a gifted putter, who captured his first major at 2003 U.S. Open. A veteran of five Presidents Cups, he dovetails effectively with any partner in team golf.

Anthony Kim
Age: 23 World ranking: 15 PGA Tour victories: 2 Major victories: 0 Previous Ryder Cups: 0. Regarded as the best young talent in American professional golf with strong self-belief, he has won twice on the 2008 PGA Tour. Possesses a superb all-round game and has been eager to play at the Ryder Cup since representing the victorious U.S. amateurs at the 2005 Walker Cup.

Justin Leonard
Age: 36 World ranking: 26 PGA Tour victories: 12 Major victories: 1 Previous Ryder Cups: 2 (1997, 1999) Ryder Cup record: 0-3-5. Renowned for his accuracy from tee to green, has not represented his country at the Ryder Cup since the U.S. last triumphed in the biennial competition at Brookline in 1999. Clinched his first major title at the 1997 British Open and has appeared on four Presidents Cup teams.

Ben Curtis
Age: 31 World ranking: 77 PGA Tour victories: 3 Major victories: 1 Previous Ryder Cups: 0. Won the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George's when ranked 396th and playing in his first major championship. A solid, par-making machine who plays best on difficult courses, was a top-ranked player in world amateur lists before turning pro in 2000. Won twice in 2006 for his other two U.S. Tour titles.

Boo Weekley
Age: 35 World ranking: 33 PGA Tour victories: 2 Major victories: 0 Previous Ryder Cups: 0. Nicknamed after cartoon character Yogi Bear's sidekick Boo Boo, won his first PGA Tour title at last year's Heritage Classic before mounting a successful defence this April. Solid all-round game. Represented the U.S. at the 2007 World Cup with high school friend Heath Slocum where they lost a playoff to Scotland.

August 12, 2008

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