Pavin to play it safe with Woods and old hands as wild cards
Tuesday 07 September 2010
Corey Pavin, the US Ryder Cup captain, announces his four wild-card picks today at the New York Stock Exchange, an appropriate location given that Tiger Woods is a banker to make the side.
The selection of Woods is a foregone conclusion, now the world No1 is starting to recapture his form and has stated publicly that he wants to play in Wales. Pavin dare not risk leaving him out. Omitting the greatest player of his generation would constitute a ready-made stick with which to beat Pavin should America lose. Filling the three remaining places, however, is a less straightforward task.
Pavin has been taking advice from his four vice-captains and the eight golfers who qualified for the team about which players he ought to select. He said last week that he had 20 golfers in his mind, which equates to 16 phone calls this morning breaking the bad news.
The pressure is on Pavin to make the right call. Of the eight qualifiers – Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Jeff Overton, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar – only four have played in the Ryder Cup before, and four will be making their debuts in golf's most demanding tournament at Celtic Manor next month, which suggests experience should be foremost in Pavin's mind.
His decision is not as tough as the dilemma which faced his European counterpart, Colin Montgomerie, last month, but it could prove to be more important. Two years ago at Valhalla, captain Paul Azinger's four wild-card picks were the cornerstone of the American team's victory, with Mahan, Stricker, Chad Campbell and J B Holmes combining for eight and a half points in the United States' 161/2 to 111/2 margin of superiority.
"What I'm looking for is someone who I think can handle Ryder Cup pressure in Europe," Pavin said last week. "If that's a rookie, that's fine. If it's not, that's fine."
The general consensus in America is that the former Masters champion Zach Johnson is highly likely to join Woods in the team. He won the Colonial in May and is in decent form, having finished tied for third in last month's USPGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
The field for the other two places is wide open. The most exciting selection would be tour rookie Rickie Fowler, whose aggressive style makes him a natural fit for the Ryder Cup. But if Pavin wants experience, he could go for Anthony Kim and Stewart Cink, the 2009 Open champion.
Pavin's Picks: those in the mix to be US Ryder Cup wild cards
If Monty gets slaughtered for overlooking the world No 9 Paul Casey, then imagine what they'll say about Pavin if he dumps Woods. The experience of the past year may even have made Woods a better team player. Every two years we say it, but perhaps this will be the Cup in which he finally shows his genius.
With four rookies already in the team, Cink's experience of four Ryder Cups and four Presidents Cups effectively counts double. However, he has not had a top-three finish since May. In his favour, the 37-year-old from Alabama is a good team player and a consistent putter.
The 2007 Masters champion was one of the bright spots in America's humiliating defeat to Ian Woosnam's Europe four years ago in Ireland, and deserves another chance. His reliability under pressure, decisive putting and ability to play with a variety of partners make him a tough player to leave out.
What the 21-year-old lacks in experience he makes up for with his love of making birdies, lots of them. Fowler has been runner-up twice on the US tour and it is unusual for a Ryder Cup player not to have a victory under his belt. But his flamboyant shot-making has caught the imagination of American fans.
He got up the noses of the Europeans in 2008 and has been desperate to make the team again. Kim had surgery on his thumb in May to ensure he would be fit for Celtic Manor, and during his rehab he slipped out of the eight automatic places. He is struggling for form but his desire is second to none.
A year ago the 2009 US Open champion looked to be a cert, but an indifferent 2010 means he is left praying on the largesse of captain Pavin. His affable temperament is a plus, as is Pavin's known admiration for his steady consistency. It may not be enough for the 30-year-old, however.
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