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Decision week arrives for Lehman and his unknowns

As the high-handicapper in golf's major fourball, the US PGA Championship is used to being overlooked, but this year it may feel even more undervalued than usual. For the Ryder Cup circus is also pitching up in Chicago. At times, it will be difficult to work out which is the sideshow.

In fact, very little will seem certain this week, at least if you areTom Lehman. While his Euro- pean counterpart, Ian Woosnam, still has three tournaments before his dozen must be settled, the Medinah Country Club will tick down to the American captain's D-Day. And next Monday morning's decision may prove to be a real duvet-turner.

The problem for Lehman is that, in agonising contrast to Woosnam, his options are not at all clear. Thanks to a new, complex qualifying system which favours those in form, by next Sunday evening the automatic picks may have changed by as many as four. Only the backest of back markers are definitely out, a fact illuminated by the mathematical possibility that even Bob Tway could book a seat to Dublin - and he is currently 102nd in the standings. It is not the veterans, however, but the rookies about whom Lehman is supposed to be most concerned.

In an ideal world, some old favourites would arrive to save his day. A 1-2-3-4 of Davis Love, Fred Couples, Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink (in any order) would give Lehman what many would class as his dream team, just so long as the 5-6-7-8 were not Vaughn Taylor, Brett Wetterich, Zach Johnson and J J Henry. Anyway, that is the theory. In reality, Lehman's thinking could be extremely different.

For over the past few months the erudite Minnesotan has often spoken of the need for new blood to regenerate the American corpse left barely twitching at Oakland Hills two years ago. The suspicion has been that Lehman has merely declared such things to hedge his bets with so many unknowns in the frame, but his arguments have been convincing, and revealing.

Last month, for instance, he went out of his way to list Taylor's attributes. "This kid grew up in Augusta on a municipal course, never went to a private club and had to earn everything he's ever gotten in golf," he said. "He is a tough, tough competitor and a tough individual. You know, I'd take him anywhere."

With Taylor in seventh place, Lehman will probably have no choice, but what about his two wild-cards? Surely he will side with "experience", select the tried to assist the untrusted? Not necessarily.

"Look, the 'experience' we've had in the last 10 years has been mostly bad experience," Lehman has pointed out. "So, because of that, how much of this type of 'experience' is a good thing?"

He mentions no names, but those of Love and Couples stand out as men who have seen it all, but all too often shielded their eyes. If their form is hardly inspir-ing - neither has won in more than three years - then neither are their Ryder Cup records. Both have only won around a third of their matches, and while Couples cannot be blamed for the previous two defeats (he has not played since 1997) Love has been as culpable as anybody. In Detroit, his record was a pitiful one point out of five, and his selection is by no means straightforward.

A personal hunch is that if the status quo remains, then Lehman will go for the bonhomie of Couples with the heart of either Cink or Verplank. Indeed, his prayers these next few days may very well include one of this trio making his choice that much easier. Who knows, this US PGA may prove more important than ever.



Top five from world rankings, top five from European points list not already qualified, two wild-cards

World list: 1 D HOWELL, 2 C MONTGOMERIE, 3 J M OLAZABAL, 4 H STENSON, 5 L DONALD, 6 S Garcia, 7 P Casey, 8 P Harrington, 9 C Petterson, 10 R Karlsson.

European list: 1 Montgomerie, 2 Howell, 3 KARLSSON, 4 Stenson, 5 CASEY, 6 GARCIA, 7 HARRINGTON, 8 P McGINLEY, 9 Olazabal, 10 P Broadhurst.

United States

Top 10 plus two wild-cards

1 T WOODS, 2 P MICKELSON, 3 J FURYK, 4 C CAMPBELL, 5 D TOMS, 6 C DIMARCO, 7 V TAYLOR, 8 J J HENRY, 9 Z JOHNSON, 10 B WETTERICH, 11 J Rollins, 12 J Kelly, 13 L Glover, 14 D Love III, 15 F Couples, 16 T Herron, 17 T Pernice Jnr, 18 S Verplank, 19 A Oberholser, 20 S Cink, 21 B Quigley, 22 B Mayfair, 23 J Sluman, 24 W Austin, 25 B Curtis.

Match to be played at the K Club, Dublin, from 22 to 24 September