Pavin puts his faith in Tiger and America's bright new cub

US captain uses his final wild card to pick flamboyant 21-year-old PGA Tour rookie
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The Independent Online

The sigh of relief which greeted Tiger Woods' selection for the Ryder Cup yesterday was quickly followed by an intake of surprise when Corey Pavin announced his fourth wild card. The 21-year-old Rickie Fowler will be the ultimate of rookies in an Usk Valley crammed with them when the biennial spectacular tees off in just over three weeks' time.

Fowler's inclusion at the expense of a group containing the 2008 hero Anthony Kim and Monday's startling winner Charley Hoffman was undoubtedly the golfing story. But, as always in this sport, a certain other golfer was destined to steal the headlines.

The run-up to the US captain's declaration of his dozen was dominated by all the "will he dare not pick him?" conjecture. In the event, Pavin's face did not reveal a flicker of emotion when, after revealing the safe-handed duo of Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson, he uttered the name the overwhelming majority wanted to hear – "Tiger Woods". It is no exaggeration to say those three syllables triggered a mass popping of corks in the boardrooms.

Even Pavin admitted noticing the commercial demands churning in the background. "I would have had to have been living in a bubble not to," he said. "But that is not why I picked him." Instead, despite Woods not having recorded a top 10 in his last six starts, he has apparently sided with the shamed icon for purely sporting reasons.

For his part, Woods, via a telephone line, told the press conference, which bafflingly took place at the New York Stock Exchange, "how honoured I am". He denied he would be trying any harder than he might have in the past as he sought to justify his captain's faith. "I've always loved playing the Ryder Cup," Woods said. "I don't know where this perception of indifference comes from. They are experiences you will never forget."

Woods is aware of what is awaiting him in the Usk Valley. "On the road, you get booed a lot, you get jeered and people say things they probably shouldn't say," he said. "They did it with Monty, so it goes both ways. I've had that experience and understand how to deal with it and make it a positive."

Certainly, the Welsh fans will have plenty of ammunition – if only his Ryder Cup record, which reads "played five times, lost four". Indeed, if he manages to fall in four of his potential five games at Celtic Manor he will displace Raymond Floyd as America's biggest loser with 17 defeats. "You want to play well to make the crowd go quiet," said Woods. "That's the objective."

If he and America fail, the "not-a-team-player" theory will inevitably gain more credibility. The truth is that as soon as he made the cut in the first FedEx play-off event a fortnight ago, it was impossible for Pavin to overlook a player who, many forget, was his country's leading point scorer in 2006, his last Ryder Cup. Woods' tie for 11th in Boston proved that, with a new coach in Sean Foley, his game is in recovery. "The Ryder Cup is a better event with him in it," agreed the Europe captain, Colin Montgomerie.

But what of Hoffman not being in it? The journeyman won the Deutsche Bank Championship two days ago by five shots courtesy of a staggering final-round 62; a performance which inspired Pavin's predecessor, Paul Azinger, to say: "Hoffman is a lock." Last night he updated this to: "Hoffman must be really bummed out." It's a good job Pavin isn't concerned what anyone thinks.

He recognises in Fowler a young man with the poise and chutzpah to handle the Cup's atmosphere. It is a remarkable leap of faith as he is undeniably the most inexperienced competitor in a match featuring 11 debutants. Fowler is the first European or American to make the step up from the Walker Cup to the Ryder Cup in just one year and also the first PGA Tour rookie to make the US team. Furthermore, in his 11 months in the pro ranks Fowler has yet to win and is hardly in form. He has not enjoyed a top 10 finish since June.

But, putting those black-and-white stats aside, the Californian has caught the eye in spectacular style. Some of this may be put down to the garish outfits he dons – "Rickie, what it will be like not to wear bright orange for a whole week?" was one of the questions he was asked yesterday – but most of it is down to the exuberance of his play.

He has a wonderfully natural swing and an irresistible personality, which has long marked him down as a superstar in waiting. In his two Walker Cup appearances, he played eight and won seven and as a 17-year-old was impervious to the partisan crowd at Royal County Down. "I do think I could bring some energy and get the guys pumped up," he said. Who knows? Even Woods may even go to him for a gee-up.

Team America

Rickie Fowler

Wild card

Age: 21

World ranking: 33

Former amateur world No 1 who turned professional only last September. Has burst on to the PGA Tour, finishing second in three events this year.

Ryder Cup record Will be making his debut.

Tiger Woods

Wild card

Age: 34

World Ranking: 1

Tiger Woods has been on a winning Ryder Cup team once in five attempts - the second time he played the competition in 1999

Ryder Cup record Matches won: 10. Halved: 2. Lost: 13

Zach Johnson

Wild card

Age: 34

World ranking: 17

Victorious in the 2007 Masters – his only win in a Major.

Ryder Cup record Matches won: 1. Halved: 2. Lost: 1

Stewart Cink

Wild card

Age: 37

World ranking: 35

Part of the winning team in 2008 and won last year's Open Championship.

Ryder Cup record Matches won: 4. Halved: 4. Lost: 7

Phil Mickelson

Age: 40

World ranking: 2

Has won four majors and wil be making a joint record eighth Ryder Cup appearance.

Ryder Cup record Matches won: 10. Halved: 6. Lost: 14

Steve Stricker

Age: 43

World ranking: 4

In good form after winning the John Deere classic in July, setting a PGA Tour record for 54 holes.

Ryder Cup record Matches won: 0. Halved: 1. Lost: 2

Jim Furyk

Age: 40

World ranking: 5

Consistent veteran, but the 2003 US Open remains his only major success.

Ryder Cup record Matches won: 8. Halved: 3. Lost: 13

Hunter Mahan

Age: 28

World ranking: 13

Claimed two PGA Tour events this year.

Ryder Cup record Matches won: 2. Halved: 3. Lost: 0

Matt Kuchar

Age: 32

World ranking: 11

Won the Barclays tournament last month, his first win on the tour this year.

Ryder Cup record Will be making his debut

Dustin Johnson

Age: 26

World ranking: 24

Won two PGA Tour events in February.

Ryder Cup record Will be making his debut

Jeff Overton

Age: 27

World ranking: 47

Is the first American to automatically make the Ryder Cup team without a victory on the PGA Tour.

Ryder Cup record Will be making his debut

Bubba Watson

Age: 31

World ranking: 25

Capped impressive year by winning The Travelers Championship in July and finishing second in the PGA Championship.

Ryder Cup record Will be making his debut

Team Europe

How the European Team compares:

Age/World ranking/Ryder Cup apps/Matches/Wins/Halved/Lost

L Westwood 37/3/6/29/14/5/10

R McIlroy 21/7/0/0 /0 /0/0

M Kaymer 25/6/0/0 /0/0/0

G McDowell 31/14/1/4 /2/1/1

I Poulter 34/12/2/7/6/0/1

R Fisher 29/28/0/0/0/0/0

F Molinari 27/36/0/0/0/0/0/

M A Jimenez 46/27/3/12/2/3/7

P Hanson 32/43/0/0/0/0/0

* L Donald 32/8/2/7/5/1/1

* P Harrington 38/20/5/21/7/3/11

* E Molinari 29/15/0/0/0/0/0

*wild cards

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