Ballesteros warns Europe to beware America on home turf
Wednesday 17 September 2008
Paul Azinger has made no secret of his wish for the Valhalla galleries to get loud, if not personal, in their backing of the home team this week and yesterday he confessed that he is planning to fire them up straight from the off. The American captain is ready to lead the way in the foursomes on Friday morning with the two Kentuckians in his squad, Kenny Perry and JB Holmes.
"You know, I'd like to put them off first match out, to be honest, and get this crowd rocking," said Azinger. "I think the crowd will be energised and the players will be energised as well. I see it only as a positive for the both of them."
Azinger, who has previously admitted that he has concerns about fans becoming too raucous, left himself open to charges of whipping the supporters into a frenzy, but he is unrepentant. During practice yesterday he saw how the crowd, which he claimed to number 40,000, responded to the big-hitting of Holmes and he clearly found it exciting. "On the 13th the hole is 328 or 330 to the front of the green and JB flew it right on," he revealed. "The crowd went absolutely crazy. That was a dose of what we could be in for and I look forward to it."
However, Azinger did emphasise the line that should not be crossed. "The message is certainly going to be to maintain a certain level of sportsmanship," he said. "We don't want anybody out of hand. Of course there will be alcohol served and, of course, there will be some minor cases. But we will be engaging the crowd."
It had been reported that Tiger Woods, the injured world No 1, would turn up to assist in raising the atmosphere but news came out on his website yesterday that he will not be attending. Azinger will just have to rely on local lads Perry and Holmes.
All of which will not worry Nick Faldo one bit, although he should be wary of Azinger's mind games. The European captain would be confident of pitching most of his players against Perry and Holmes in the first match, but might not some of his lesser lights facing up to the best players in the American team. Furthermore, he might wish to waste a partnership such as Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia against opponents who are not top drawer. The permutations seem endless.
For his part, Faldo kept his cards typically close to his chest by sending out his team in three-balls for their first practice ground. Before they set off, Faldo gathered hi smen on the first tee for a team-talk. "The team are really tight together," he said. "It's great."
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