- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

MILWAUKEE — Hal Sutton took his best shot from a difficult lie yesterday.

The U.S. Ryder Cup captain added veteran Jay Haas and pure-putting Stewart Cink to his squad, completing Uncle Sam’s side for next month’s 35th Ryder Cup Matches with the least objectionable pair from a pedestrian pool.

“Stewart and Jay were in my mind the whole time,” Sutton said of the players ranked 12th (Haas) and 14th (Cink) in the U.S. points standings. “The obvious thing that they bring to the team is they’ve both played well for quite a period of time here. Both of them are in the top 25, I think, in putting. Both are great drivers of the ball. And both are good iron players.

“Neither one of them are what I would call prolific, long hitters. … But Oakland Hills is not the monster that it used to be. [Assistant captain] Jackie Burke had an interesting comment when I called him yesterday. He said, ‘Hey, Hal, they only give away trophies on the greens. … Let’s look to the good putters.’”

Sutton had intimated all along that the two qualities he was looking for in his wild-card picks were clutch putting and the ability to close. It’s somewhat interesting, therefore, that he settled on Cink and Haas for the matches Sept. 17-19.

Statistically speaking, the 31-year-old Cink is a superb putter. And he boasts a playoff victory this season (MCI Heritage Classic), making him one of only five U.S. team members with a 2004 win. However, the Georgia Tech grad had a losing record (1-2) in his only previous Ryder Cup experience (2002). And his career features only three tour victories and a painful defining moment — a missed 3-footer on the 72nd hole at the 2001 U.S. Open that would have earned him a playoff berth.

Haas has similarly dubious career baggage in both regards. Despite his well-publicized late-career renaissance over the last two years, the 50-year-old still hasn’t won an event since 1993. His ability with the short stick under pressure is certainly in question for anybody who watched the U.S. Senior Open. And while his record in two Ryder Cup appearances (1983 and 1995) is an acceptable 3-4-1, his defining Cup moment was a 1995 singles collapse against Ireland’s Philip Walton, who many Europeans consider among the worst players ever to represent their side.

“I was obviously very disappointed with the loss in 1995, but I never felt like I needed to atone or anything like that,” said Haas, who blew a 4-up lead against the Irishman but was just one of many back-nine U.S. flameouts on the day. “The Ryder Cup was something I had pointed toward for the last couple of years now, and to realize that goal is pretty exciting. … I’m playing with some people that are about my kids’ age, but I’m comfortable with that.”

And in spite of the shortcomings on both the Haas and Cink resumes, U.S. fans should be relatively comfortable with Sutton’s picks. Why? Because for the first time in any recent U.S. captain’s tenure, there wasn’t a possible pick who demanded to be chosen with his play.

Before veteran grinder Scott Verplank badly sprained his right ankle at the PGA Championship, most observers felt he was a likely pick. Verplank was the only player not chosen whom Sutton called Sunday night, suggesting that he was the last man out and that Sutton received an unfavorable report on the state of his ankle.

After Verplank, the options become even more muddled. Justin Leonard made a last-minute case for himself at the PGA. But not only was it his first strong week of the season, Leonard failed to finish the job at Whistling Straits.

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