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Ryder Cup teams no clearer

The outcome of the Wyndham Championship on Sunday did nothing to clarify the American Ryder Cup team, and only further muddied the European waters.

With most of the big boys having a week off before the start of this week’s FedEx Cup playoff series, American captain Paul Azinger was looking for some of his countryman to step up and make a Ryder Cup statement.

Azinger has two more weeks before he makes his four captain’s picks to round out his 12-man line-up to take on Europe at Valhalla in Kentucky, but he must more confused than ever.

There were several players in Greensboro who must harbor hopes of making the team - David Toms, Davis Love, Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker, for example - but none exactly made a compelling case.

Johnson tied for 26th, Toms for 41st, with Love and Snedeker even further back. Not quite the stuff to force Azinger to take notice.

In fact, the top three Americans finishers were men that until Sunday were not even on the radar screen - Scott McCarron (second), Rich Beem (third) and J.J. Henry (tied fourth).

While Azinger has said he will go with players in hot form, it’s hard to believe he will pick McCarron, Beem or Henry unless they fire again this week at the Barclays Championship.

Actually, Azinger could probably do worse than select McCarron or Beem, because both are upbeat, extroverted characters who would make the team room more fun to be around.

But they have to back it up this week and perhaps next. One good performance against a thin field at Greensboro is not enough.

Azinger says he wants winners on his team but the past seven PGA Tour events have produced only two American winners - Chez Reavie in Canada and Parker McLachlin in Reno.

But McLachlin followed up his Reno success by promptly missing the cut at the PGA Championship, while Reavie hasn’t had a top-50 finish in his subsequent two starts. That’s not exactly the sort of consistency Azinger will want to take a chance with.

All of which suggests Azinger, like it or not, still has an open mind, with everything to play for the next two weeks.

On the European front, Carl Pettersson’s Greensboro victory brings him into consideration for one of Nick Faldo’s two captain’s picks.

Note that Faldo has only two choices, while Azinger has four. Right now, they probably both wish it was the other way around, because Faldo has an embarrassment of riches.

Among those currently outside the top 10 on the qualifying list are Pettersson, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Peter Hanson.

All have legitimate cases, particularly Poulter and Casey. Poulter was a strong second at the British Open, while Casey has been playing consistently well lately. He tied for 26th in Greensboro, no disgrace, and that was his worst finish in his past five starts.

“I have played some very good golf the past few weeks,” said Casey, whose putting touch has been missing for most of the year. “The one thing that hasn’t been good all year has been putting and that’s been coming around very nicely the past week. That’s what I’m excited about.

“If I can continue playing good golf the next few weeks and stick my nose in there for a possible pick, that would be great, but there’s only one guy who knows what he’s going to do, and that’s Nick. It’s very much out of my hands. I’ve just got to worry about myself and play great golf.”

Casey, a member of the past two victorious teams, has an impressive Ryder Cup record - three wins, one loss and two halves.

But he knows he cannot count on being picked, not with so many good players vying for those two spots.

“It’s so open and I think that’s good for our team,” he continued. “I think it’s a very difficult position he (Faldo) is in.”

Casey, by the way, plans to play the next two weeks on the PGA Tour, rather than return to Europe, even though next week’s tour event near Boston does not count towards the European standings.

However, the European Tour event in Scotland the same week does count, but Casey thinks his best chance is to stay in the same time zone and play well enough to give Faldo no choice.

One European who hasn’t received much fanfare is Peter Hanson, but his victory at the SAS Masters in Sweden on Sunday cannot be overlooked, especially if he continues to play well the next two weeks.

Maybe Faldo will pick Pettersson and Hanson with a view to pairing the two Swedes up. Stranger things have happened.


August 19, 2008

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