(AP) — If nothing else, Paul Azinger deserves credit for making sure the United States fields its best team in the Ryder Cup.
The revamped criteria identifies the best Americans in a Ryder Cup year. Six of the eight qualifiers have combined to win 10 tournaments this year. The other two are Jim Furyk, steady as ever, and Ben Curtis, perhaps the hottest player at the moment.
“If we win, I’ll go down as having the lowest IQ of any genius who ever lived,” Azinger said last month.
Real genius, though, is figuring out what to do with his four captain’s picks.
Azinger believed his team would be even stronger if he could double the number of his picks to get the hottest players. But with one tournament remaining before he has to choose, he might as well put on a blindfold and throw darts.
“I’m really happy that I don’t have to pick four players this morning, I can tell you that,” Azinger said the morning after the PGA Championship, the old deadline for his captain’s picks. “It would have been very difficult to know what to do.”
Like it’s any easier now?
Of the next 25 players in the standings, only one of them – rookie Chez Reavie – has won in the last six months. The best American last week at The Barclays was Kevin Sutherland, whose only PGA Tour victory came six years ago in Accenture Match Play Championship. And if Azinger is looking for experience, only four of the next 40 in the standings have ever played in a Ryder Cup.
To offer the captain help he doesn’t need, 23 golf writers were asked to submit four picks each.
There wasn’t much consensus with them, either.
The writers were told they would not be identified, but comments from one longtime Ryder Cup scribe as he struggled to come up with four picks summed up Azinger’s problems.
“I’m looking for the hottest players, but they don’t play for the United States.”
Steve Stricker led the list with 17 points, followed by Rocco Mediate (15), Hunter Mahan (12) and J.B. Holmes (11). Behind those top four were Brandt Snedeker with seven votes, Sean O’Hair with five, then Scott Verplank, Woody Austin and Zach Johnson with four.
Eighteen players, from rookie Kevin Streelman to veteran Paul Goydos, received votes.
Azinger declined an invitation to submit his four names, but he sent an e-mail saying his choices “might be narrowing.” What that means is anyone’s guess, although the e-mail arrived on Friday when Stricker was leading the Barclays and playing in the final group with Mahan. They combined to play the weekend at Ridgewood in 11-over par.
Holmes closed with a 66 at Barclays, but timing is everything. He sure could have used a round like that at Oakland Hills, where he shot 81 in the final round of the PGA Championship when he had the 54-hole lead.
The hottest players are found across the Atlantic, even if some of the Europeans are doing their damage on U.S. soil.
Darren Clarke just won in Holland for his second victory in the last four months, winning the KLM Open by three shots over Paul McGinley (you remember McGinley – he’s the Irishman who made the winning putt for Europe in 2002). Paul Casey was one shot out of the lead going into the final round of The Barclays and tied for seventh.
The winner in Greensboro? Carl Pettersson of Sweden. The winner of the last two majors? Padraig Harrington of Ireland. The only American to win a major this year was Tiger Woods, who clinched a spot on the team one week before season-ending knee surgery.
Azinger said he would continue the points list after the PGA Championship “so I can look at the top 12 guys and maybe make a choice just based on that.”
Of the top 25 who did not make the team, nine missed the cut at The Barclays and none finished among the top 18.
The one criteria that Azinger said might need changing for the next U.S. team is the majors, which offered double points in the current year. If any American had won the PGA Championship – including a club pro – he would have been eligible for the team.
The double points at majors – Azinger believes 1 1/2 points would be better – enabled Curtis to make his first Ryder Cup team with his tie for second at the PGA Championship. That worked out well, for Curtis is playing as well as anyone. In his first tournament since Oakland Hills, he finished one shot out of the playoff at The Barclays.
Considering that the new points system identified the best players, was four picks really necessary?
“Maybe not,” Azinger said. “I don’t know. If you look down that list, I like the next four guys a lot.”
He likes a lot of players.
Whether they can help the United States win the Ryder Cup is another matter.
The Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday on the TPC Boston, could go a long way toward firming up Azinger’s four picks. He will announce his selections next Tuesday in New York. One can only hope he doesn’t have to go the way of one writer, who left this message after giving his four names.
“It was more a case of settling on who I didn’t want than necessarily who I wanted. Good luck, Mr. Azinger.”