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Azinger mulling over his 4 Ryder Cup picks

NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Scott Verplank was a footnote in 2002 when he became the first American to be a captain's pick without any previous experience in the Ryder Cup.

There might be four Ryder Cup rookies who get picked this year.

U.S. captain Paul Azinger announces his four wild-card selections Tuesday morning in New York, having asked for an additional three weeks to find the hottest players but getting a tepid response from his candidates.

The final audition was the Deutsche Bank Championship, where the only American to finish in the top five was Tim Herron, who recorded his first top 10 of the entire season.

The Ryder Cup will be played Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.

All indications were that Steve Stricker would be one of the picks. Stricker, No. 10 in the world ranking, was bumped out of making the team on his own when Ben Curtis tied for second at the PGA Championship and finished among the top eight qualifiers.

"I'm glad the playing part is over," said Stricker, 41, who has never played in a Ryder Cup. "I haven't been able to enjoy these playoffs. Hopefully, I get that call. I feel like I've played well enough."

Another pick likely will go to J.B. Holmes, who grew up in Kentucky, has played Valhalla more than any other player and has enormous power off the tee. Holmes was the 54-hole leader at the PGA Championship until a wretched start sent him to an 81. He missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank.

"If he picks J.B., I'd love to play with J.B.," said Kenny Perry, a feature player because of his Kentucky roots. "He's a rookie, young kid, he bombs it. Two Kentuckians out there, we'd be rock stars. We'd feel like Tiger Woods."

The other two? It might be just as easy to draw names from a hat.

Among the players under consideration, only one has Ryder Cup experience. That would be Verplank, who has made both teams as a captain's pick, has a 4-1 record but finished 33rd in the final standings.

"I might not be on his list, and I would understand," Verplank said after a tie for 63rd at the TPC Boston. "I might be at the top of his list, and I would understand that, too. There's a thousand ways he can go, and I just hope I'm one of those thousands."

Azinger revamped the criteria this year to award points based on earnings, counting only the 2007 majors and 2008 tournaments, with double points for this year's majors. Then, he asked for four picks - double the usual number - with hopes of finding the hottest players.

The first part of the equation worked beautifully. Of the top eight, only Jim Furyk and Curtis are without a victory this year. The other qualifiers were Perry, Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard and Boo Weekley.

As for finding four players in form?

"There's nobody that really showed up," Perry said.

Hunter Mahan opened the PGA Tour Playoffs with a 62 at The Barclays, and Stricker took the 36-hole lead, but both faded on the weekend. Mahan shot 69 on Monday and tied for 15th, and as he walked out of the scoring trailer and saw a group of reporters, he pre-empted the questions.

"I don't know," he said. "And I hope so."

Others under consideration include D.J. Trahan, Brandt Snedeker, Sean O'Hair and perhaps Heath Slocum. Woody Austin and Rocco Mediate finished 10th and 14th, respectively, in the final standings, and could merit a look.

Trahan had a chance to show something in the final round, but opened with a double bogey and the damage didn't stop until he signed for an 80. He walked past reporters without talking.

Austin wore a patriotic shirt Monday, but his putter failed him in a round of 75.

"This really isn't about the Ryder Cup," he said of his attire. "It's a special weekend."

Asked what was so special, he mentioned that it was Memorial Day. Then he was reminded it was Labor Day.

"I'm punch drunk," Austin said. "This course beat me up."

Austin might have made the U.S. team under the old system of taking the top 10 qualifiers, but he understood Azinger's wish to get four picks. Finding those four turned out to be harder than imagined.

"Nobody really broke out and had a great performance except the guys who are playing well already," Kim said. "There's a lot of guys who have a chance to make that team. Nobody really won a tournament, like Darren Clarke did on the European side."

Clarke won two tournaments in the past four months, but still was left off the European team in favor of Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, neither of whom has won all year.

Strangely, several U.S. players and caddies believed that Bubba Watson was getting serious consideration because of his length off the tee. But Watson, who has never won on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour, almost certainly won't be picked. Even he doesn't think he'll be picked.

"I don't think I have a chance," Watson said. "I'm friends with Zinger, but I haven't done anything."

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