Lehman's picks add experience to US Ryder Cup rookies
Tuesday 22 August 2006
After the certainty came the uncertainty. If Tiger Woods' 12th major victory here on Sunday evening had looked effortless, then Tom Lehman's selection of his Ryder Cup team yesterday had been sleepless. There was a good reason for him resembling a man who had been up all night. He had.
But choose two he had to, and in Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank there was a general nod to his savvy. True, Cink has not won in two years and Verplank in five. But still, these were probably the best two options as Lehman sought to add some steel to a dozen dirtied by shaky rookies and at the same time courageously shy away from the old favourites who commanded all of the sentiment but little of the sense.
Inevitably, Davis Love was cast as the snubbed galactico, but this captain gave a succinct summing up of why he dropped him from his first Ryder Cup since 1991. "Davis has not been playing well, plain and simple," he said.
In fairness to Lehman's generous nature, he was not so forthright in swinging the axe. He did give his wild-card discards another night to itch their necks. The 47-year-old, who has himself been on the receiving end of the worst phone call in golf, had intended to decide straight after the USPGA Championship, but as he took advice from the great and the greater of American golf Lehman confessed: "I'm too tired to make this choice now. I'll make it in the morning."
If the top of the squad is bristling with quality - what with the world's top three in Woods, Mickelson and Jim Furyk being backed up by such proven performers as David Toms and Chris DiMarco - then the bottom is threadbare. Lehman made cases for his unknown quartet - Zach Johnson, Vaughn Taylor, J J Henry and Brett Wetterich - but in doing so sounded like a drunken punter explaining the reasons for the four 50-1 maidens on his yankee slip.
Essentially what made his picks so vital and so desperate was that on his short-list of six was his assistant captain, the 46-year-old Corey Pavin. The other oh-so-closers were Love ("just because I felt I had to"), Lucas Glover and Steve Stricker. Valiantly, however, Lehman did a Churchillian job in accentuating the positives, declaring he was happy with everything surrounding his team. The only time he did drop his guard was when asked why Woods and Mickelson were the only members not travelling over to the K Club on Sunday evening for the two-day reconnaissance mission.
"Listen, if I ever hear somebody question Tiger Woods' desire to be a part of this team again, I'm going to go crazy," he said, going crazy. "Tiger cannot wait to play in this Ryder Cup. He is looking forward to it every bit as much as the USPGA, the British Open [sic], the Masters and the US Open. And if he didn't have a commitment with his charity, he would be in Ireland with us, and that's a fact. And here's another one. Tiger told me last night, 'Don't worry about the young guys, I'll take care of them'. That tells you about the leadership of our team."
It seemed churlish to question anything about Woods in the light of Sunday's stroll down the fairways. It was not just his caddie, Steve Williams, repeating the claim he made at The Open that "Tiger is better than he was in 2000", but the stats. In taking outright second in the all-time roll of honour - now just six majors behind Jack Nicklaus - Woods became the first player to win more than one major in consecutive years and is halfway towards "Tiger Slam II".
The 30-year-old has won back-to-back majors for the first time since the Masters and Open in 2002 and this is his first three-tournament winning streak (for which he is a staggering 60-under) since 2001. Are you as good as you were back then, Tiger? "Yes," he said. He knew it, the humbled - such as Luke Donald - were accepting it and Lehman was thanking God for it. Regardless of his Ryder Cup record, Tiger is still the captain's pick of all time.
US RYDER CUP TEAM
1* Tiger Woods 4,825pts; 2 Phil Mickelson 2,474; 3 Jim Furyk 2,076; 4 Chad Campbell 1,129; 5 David Toms 1,072; 6 Chris DiMarco 830; 7 Vaughn Taylor 780; 8 JJ Henry 778; 9 Zach Johnson 756; 10 Brett Wetterich 746; 12 Stewart Cink 676; 20 Scott Verplank 595.
*Numbers denote position in qualifying list.
Ryder rookies: The four new boys flying the American flag
Age 30. World ranking 57. Qualifying position 7th.
How he qualified Won twice on the US Tour, but both came when the big names were away playing in a World Golf Championship event. The Open last month was his first trip to Europe.
J J HENRY
Age 31. World ranking 74. Qualifying position 8th.
How he qualified Henry won his first Tour title last month at the 177th time of asking, but did not finish in the top 80 on the US money list in any of his previous four years on the Tour.
Age 30. World ranking 37. Qualifying position 9th.
How he qualified Took six years to make it , but made hay when he got there with one win and more than $2m (£1.2m) in earnings. That was in 2004 and this fine putter has not won since.
Age 33. World ranking 61. Qualifying position 10th.
How he qualified Won his first Tour title in May, 12 years after turning professional. Has never made the cut in a major and he is the first Ryder Cup player with such a distinction.
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