Lehman shies away from doing joint role

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The Independent Online

While it would be misleading to suggest that Tom Lehman was a relieved man yesterday, the morning after he had seen the chance of his first title in six years lost in a play-off, there was undoubtedly a huge consolation for America's Ryder Cup captain. At least the barrage of questions concerning whether he intends to become the first playing captain since 1963 was going to dry up. Slightly.

For thanks to finishing as runner-up behind Dean Wilson at Castle Pines on Sunday night, Lehman goes into the USPGA Championship at Medinah, Chicago, knowing qualification remains a real possibility. And although the 47-year-old sounded decidedly sceptical about him donning competitive spikes at the K Club in six weeks' time, he did not rule it out completely.

What Lehman in fact said after losing out to the Hawaii first-time winner on the second sudden-death hole was: "I decided a while back that unless there was some crazy, unforeseen circumstance I would not play."

Most have taken that to mean Lehman will have to win the season's final major - which also happens to be final qualifying tournament for the US team - before he would take his berth and not simply gain the top-seven placing he needs to come in the top 10 of the standings.

But those around him are making noises that if Lehman had prevailed in Colorado and so all but secured his spot (he would have leapt from 29th on the points list to seventh, but instead is now 19th) then he would likely have left the minutiae of the captaincy work to his two assistants, Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts, and emulated Arnold Palmer 43 years ago. If he could finally learn to trust his putting, that is.

It has been a familiar whinge of Lehman in recent times and again he was bemoaning his effectiveness with the "wand", his broomstick putter. Interestingly, it is this failing that would put him off lining up alongside his troops on the Irish battlefield before any concerns about being able to marry up the two roles. "My putting is just a little bit too erratic," he said when asked if he would rate himself among the 12. "In the Ryder Cup it all comes down to guys who can knock the ball in the hole."

Lehman has no such doubts about Stewart Cink and will be praying he can come in the top 10 of the USPGA to complete his rise up the listings after jumping from 20th to 12th on Sunday. Lehman appreciates anything can happen this week, with so many points on offer. Even the players down near the 100-mark in the standings could still qualify automatically in a highly volatile system.

Indeed, only five are sure to be in Dublin, two of whom, of course, are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The world Nos 1 and 2 arrived in Chicago yesterday to find it confirmed that they will partner each other in the first two rounds. Expect fireworks. But not much conversation.

* Paul Broadhurst has lost his place in the world's top 50 - and unless he takes it back this week his hopes of returning to Europe's Ryder Cup team will be hanging by a thread.