Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Talk about a couple of ‘Zingers. Already charged with skippering a decided underdog, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger didn’t do himself any favors when he added a pair of bizarre wild card choices to his team Tuesday morning.

Facing more scrutiny than ever because of a new format that allows him four captain’s choices, Azinger added Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, J.B. Holmes and Chad Campbell to the roster that meets the Europeans on Sept. 19-21 in Louisville, Ky.

The first two appointments came as little surprise. Stricker was one slot removed from automatic qualification, and his superb putting and two-season renaissance made him a likely choice. And despite his snarky comments about the event in Golf magazine last month, the 26-year-old Mahan has long been an Azinger favorite. Mahan, a fiery competitor who has recorded five top-20 finishes dating to the U.S. Open, also was on every insider’s watch list.

Azinger’s other two picks, however, came from off the Ryder Cup radar. The U.S. captain listed Holmes’ familiarity with the host venue (Valhalla Golf Club) when running through his attractive attributes. And Azinger likely hopes adding a second Kentucky native (along with Kenny Perry) will stoke the locals into a frenzy that will help the United States end its recent run of futility in the event. Europe has won five of the last six Ryder Cups dating to 1995, the last two in lopsided fashion.

Still, it’s difficult to see Holmes’ popularity in the Bluegrass State outweighing his lack thereof in the team room. If a random sampling of PGA players named the three least-liked guys on tour, Holmes might finish second to Rory Sabbatini. Why? Because the 26-year-old has no social skills. His boorish behavior and poor personal hygiene are running jokes on the PGA Tour. Given that Azinger was supposed to be a more connected captain than recent out-of-touch U.S. skippers Hal Sutton and Tom Lehman, the selection of Holmes seems almost comically misinformed.

“Personality matters,” Azinger said at Tuesday’s news conference. “If you have guys that are not getting along or whatever, it makes a difference.”

In that case, Azinger has made a double bogey with Holmes, who ranked 18th in the U.S. standings behind other possible picks Woody Austin (11th), D.J. Trahan (12th), Sean O’Hair (14th), Rocco Mediate (15th) and Brandt Snedeker (16th).

Of course, it was clear Azinger didn’t put much stock in the standings when he reached down to No. 21 to tap Campbell, a 34-year-old who hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in more than two years.

“Chad also is a terrific ball-striker tee-to-green, and when I narrowed my list down to three or four players, his name came up a lot,” said Azinger, who also praised Campbell’s Ryder Cup experience.

That experience consists of a 1-3-2 record in the last two Ryder Cups. Does negative experience trump no experience? And if experience was a factor, how could he leave out Austin? Aquaman not only finished higher in the U.S. points standings than three of Azinger’s choices but also exhibited his match-play warrior’s mentality as perhaps the MVP of last year’s U.S. victory at the Presidents Cup in Montreal.

“Woody is an exceptional person and a terrific player,” Azinger said. “I’ve said all along I don’t want to try to justify why I didn’t pick anybody that I didn’t pick. He would have been a terrific pick, but there are a lot of guys who would have been terrific picks.”

On the bright side, Azinger addressed the rumor that he is attempting to convince Tiger Woods to make a morale-boosting appearance in Louisville.

“It has not been confirmed,” Azinger said. “You know, Tiger’s focused on rehab right now, and he needs to do what’s best for his body. I’m going to have an open phone line to Tiger Woods during the event. … I am kind of curious how he feels as the event unfolds and as things unfold throughout the week. He’s really intelligent, and he’s a great golf mind, so I’m looking forward to talking to Tiger.”

Perhaps Azinger should have talked to Tiger before firing the first blanks of his Ryder Cup captaincy.

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