Paul Azinger is facing some tough decisions over the next two weeks. As the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, he has to pick four players on Sept. 2 to join the eight automatic qualifiers. Hard as that selection process might be, I'd bet that Azinger is happy he changed the rules this year. (Previous captains had only two picks, and they made them the Monday after the PGA Championship.)
The new process gives Azinger two advantages over his predecessors. First, there's now a better chance that at least one player Azinger selects will be on a hot streak when the Cup matches begin. Both teams want the guys who are playing their best just before the Ryder Cup, but the five-week period between the PGA and the Ryder Cup is plenty of time to lose an edge. The new timing reduces the risk of having a team member in a slump.
Second, Azinger can do more to influence team chemistry. The team has three rookies (Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley and Ben Curtis) and five veterans (Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry, Justin Leonard and Stewart Cink). With four picks at his disposal, Azinger can add more youth, more experience or both. He can use his picks to complement his eight automatic selections instead of just filling out his roster. What captain wouldn't want that type of versatility?
Of course, if players like Steve Stricker, Woody Austin, Hunter Mahan and Sean O'Hair pull a disappearing act over the next three weeks, then having two or four selections won't really matter. Still, I bet Nick Faldo would be sleeping a lot better right now if he was sitting on four picks instead of two. Going into this week, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie are all on the outside of the European Ryder Cup bubble. (Photo by
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)