Golf: US captain Kite opts for experience

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The Independent Online
Ignoring one of the strongest candidates for his two wild card picks - namely himself - the American Ryder Cup captain, Tom Kite, selected Fred Couples and Lee Janzen to join the 10 players who automatically qualified from the points list for the match at Valderrama in September, writes Andy Farrell.

With six players from the team that lost the cup at Oak Hill two years ago, Kite had the luxury of leaving out a player with three top-10 finishes in the majors this year. It is unthinkable that his counterpart, Seve Ballesteros, could do the same when his team is finalised in two weeks' time, mainly because no European can claim as many as two top-10 finishes in majors this season.

With four rookies on his team already in Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard, Jim Furyk and Scott Hoch, Kite went for experience even if neither player has a winning record in the Ryder Cup. In four matches, Couples has won five games, lost seven and halved four, while Janzen lost both his outings when he played at The Belfry in 1993.

Couples, who finished 17th on the standings, was seventh at both the US Masters and the Open, but has played only a limited schedule during the course of a year when his father has been ill with leukaemia, the relationship with his fiancee broke down and his new girlfriend discovered she had breast cancer.

"Freddie has had a lot of distractions, but when he is good, he is as good as we have ever had," Kite said. Kite was also concerned about the 1992 Masters champion playing twice a day with his history of back problems, but added: "Freddie told me numerous times that he wanted to play."

Couples, 37, said: "I've had my ups and downs in the Ryder Cup, but it is always a dramatic week and a lot of fun. It's made a relatively long year come to an end."

Janzen, the '93 US Open champion, narrowly missed being selected two years ago but came into contention by finishing fourth in the USPGA on Sunday, playing the final round with Kite. "I was waiting for someone to tell me not with words, but with shots, that they wanted to be on the team," Kite said.

"Where it came down to two guys, I went with Ryder Cup experience," he added. "It was a tough decision and I discussed it with all the players who were in with a chance. I'm sure I've woken up my wife yelling out names in my sleep."

Tommy Tolles, who was knocked out of the automatic spots by Jeff Maggert's third place at Winged Foot, Paul Stankowski and Davis Duval all missed out due to lack of experience, while Kite did not think veterans such as Tom Watson and Payne Stewart were playing well enough.

Half his team suggested Kite was playing well enough, but though he believes it would be possible to be a playing captain, he ruled himself when he knew he could not qualify on points. "He's a great pick," Kite said of himself. "But he needed a good run to impress the captain and 19th was not high enough on the list."

Kite added: "We are behind the eight-ball because the Europeans know Valderrama like the back of their hands, but I think I have an impressive list of names. We know the competition is going to be tight and the outcome close."

US RYDER CUP TEAM

Tiger Woods (age 21)

Ryder Cup debut

Three-time US Amateur champion turned pro less than a year ago and became world No 1 in record time. Masters champion in April. Five other US Tour victories have pushed his season's easrnings to over $1.8m.

Justin Leonard (25)

Ryder Cup debut

US Amateur champion in 1992 and star of Walker Cup team which won by record 19-5 in 1993. Turned pro a year later and last month lifted first major with closing 65 at Open.

Tom Lehman (38)

Ryder cup record: 1 cap (1995: played 3, won 2, lost 1)

Almost became college coach after early struggles in his pro career left him nearly penniless, but was runner-up to Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994 Masters and to Steve Jones in the 1996 US Open before winning Open at Lytham last year.

Davis Love (33)

2 caps (1993-95: P9 W5 L4)

Goes to Valderrama having ended 11-year wait for first major at the US PGA. Scored winning point in 1993 by beating Costantino Rocca and got the better of him again two years ago. Runner-up in 1995 Masters and lost 1996.

Jim Furyk (27)

Debut

Possessor of curly-wurly swing, but it gets the job done. Fifth at US Open and fourth at Open this year. Nobody on 1997 US Tour has had more top 10 finishes.

Phil Mickelson (27)

1 cap (1995: P3 W3)

World's best left-hander. Won 1990 US Amateur and before turning pro had first US Tour victory in Tucson. Ten more since, including two this season, but still no majors. Not used in foursomes last time, but won both fourballs.

Jeff Maggert (33)

1 cap (1995: P4 W2 L2)

Grabbed second cap with closing course record-equalling 65 for third spot at US PGA. Only US Tour win was four years ago. Won both his games on the first day of 1995 cup, but then lost his other two matches.

Mark O'Meara (40)

3 caps (1985-89-91: P8, W2 H1 L5)

Won over $8m since winning 1979 US Amateur. Started season with two wins in four starts, but game has dipped since. Only seven top 10 finishes in majors during career and Ryder Cup defeats include all three singles.

Scott Hoch (41)

Debut

Lost 1989 Masters to Nick Faldo after missing two-foot putt on first play-off hole. Earned over a $1m last year and, helped by runners-up finish in Players' Championship, is on course for it again this season.

Brad Faxon (36)

1 cap (1995: P3, W1 L2)

One of game's great putters, but missed important one to lose to David Gilford on final green in 1995 singles. Had shot closing 63 in US PGA to snatch cup place. Had first win for five years in New Orleans in April.

Lee Janzen (32)

1 cap (1993: P2 L2)

Made cup debut as US Open champion, but played only twice at The Belfry, losing both . Three wins in 1995, but did not make cup side and has not tasted victory since. Fourth place in US PGA earned him wild card.

Fred Couples (37)

4 caps (1989-91-93-95: P15 W5 H4 L7)

Former world No 1 chosen as wild card. Finished 17th in table after taking break to be with ill father. Lost on final green to Christy O'Connor Jnr on debut. Career blighted by back problems since winning 1992 Masters.

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