Lehman sticks up for absent Ryder troops

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The Independent Online

Which is slightly unfair to the visiting captain as Lehman worked his star-spangled banner off in an attempt to get his troops to traverse the ocean this week for a scouting mission of September's battleground. Alas, even the "letter of invitation" he sent, suggesting that this week's European Open be the first of a three-week sojourn to the British Isles - ending with the Open Championship at Hoylake - fell upon ears seemingly deaf to all except that which suits them. Not that Lehman was about to admit that.

The 47-year-old fairly crackled as he rose to defend his absent superstars, who have left Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington et al a free field on which to contest one of the Tour's most prestigious prizes. Lehman declared that Tiger Woods had played at the K Club "at least 25 times", that the rest would be conducting their reconnaissance on the way over or the way back from the Open and that no, this tournament is not being played on the right side of the Liffey anyway.

For "logistical reasons", which surely could have been avoided by the organisers, the next four-days' fare will be conducted on the Smurfit Course and not the Palmer Course that will host the biennial tear-up. "That has made a massive impact of none of my lot electing to come over and play," claimed Lehman. A close analysis of his further statements, however, revealed there are undoubtedly a few other explanations as well.

The most obvious one is that Woods and Phil Mickelson, his blessed galacticos, would never have come over even if the former had not been still in the process of grieving his father's death and the latter in the process of recovering from his US Open nightmare.

Both are competing this week in Illinois and Lehman admitted he is more concerned with the world No 1's plight as he contests his first event since missing his first major cut. "I wish I knew the answer how long it will take Tiger to heal," he said. "I don't know how he will replace someone like his father, always the guy he could go to no matter what the situation."

Another reason for the American no-show is there are so many big names not in the top 10 of the Cup standings they have to stay behind to scrape for every point available. On Tuesday, Ian Woosnam, the European captain, had alluded to the far-from-famous five currently in Lehman's qualification positions - get ready for it: Lucas Glover, Brett Wetterich, Vaughn Taylor, Zach Johnson and J J Henry - and announced: "I would play the game tomorrow if I could".

"So would I," countered Lehman. You have to admire his pluck, even if not his travel agent skills.