Ryder Cup qualifying ends, auditions to follow

Ryder Cup qualifying ends, auditions to follow

<p><strong>Ping Turns 50</strong><br /> <i>To mark the 50th anniversary of Ping Golf, the company has released a series of rare images featuring founder Karsten Solheim and some of his early creations.</i></p> <p>The first club that Solheim designed and sold was the Ping 1A putter. This patent drawing of the clubhead was created in 1959.</p>
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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Paul Azinger loves the way his Ryder Cup team is shaping up going into the PGA Championship, the final tournament to earn one of the eight automatic spots on the U.S. squad.

By putting so much emphasis on the majors, though, there could be a surprise addition from Oakland Hills – even a club pro.

The PGA of America announced a purse Wednesday of $7.5 million, with $1.35 million going to the winner. Because each $1,000 is worth one point, and with the majors counting double, the winner gets 2,700 points. And because Steve Stricker is holding down the No. 8 spot at 2,603 points, any American in the field is still mathematically alive.

Such are the dynamics of this criteria that Azinger believes will give the U.S. its most qualified team in years. Even so, the captain focused on the players among the top eight going into the PGA Championship.

“It's going to be impossible to make the team based on last year's performance alone,'' Azinger said Wednesday. “You had to have played decent this year. And if you look at the list, I don't think you could make an argument that anybody in that top eight hasn't had a nice year.''

Jim Furyk and Stricker are the only players among the top eight without a victory this year, and both are in the top 10 in the world. The only reason Stricker is holding down the final spot is because Tiger Woods is out for the rest of the year.

“It would be really difficult to make an argument that the top eight players are not America's best,'' Azinger added.

So many others are lining up to join – or replace – that group.

Woody Austin would need at least 19th place alone to have a chance, while Hunter Mahan needs to finish among the top 12. Rocco Mediate, not even in the back of anyone's mind until his runner-up finish in the U.S. Open, is in 12th place and needs to at least finish in the top 10 at Oakland Hills.

“One more good shot here to get in the top eight is what we're all looking to do,'' Mediate said. “I told him a year-and-a-half ago that I want to be on that team, and it wasn't looking good until a few months ago. So I've got a shot. That's all you can really ask for. It would be a lot of fun, though, I can tell you that.''

Azinger is a former PGA champion and among the most popular figures at Oakland Hills, at least among Americans. He still has three weeks before he announces his four captain's picks.

But it's been that way all year.

At the Sony Open, the first full-field event of the year, Azinger jokingly said players would not curry favor until they knew they were playing well. One day later, he was walking off the putting green next to Chad Campbell when someone asked the Texan if he were already pandering to the captain. Campbell laughed and shook his head.

“And I haven't seen Zinger since then,'' Campbell said Wednesday, reminded of that scene. “Maybe I'll leave him a note.''

Campbell and everyone else knows better. It starts with good play, and Campbell is coming off three straight tournaments in the top 15 that have moved him up to No. 19.

“A top three wouldn't be bad,'' he said, and that might be what it takes.

Campbell has made the last two teams, while Scott Verplank has played on two of the last three, both times as a captain's pick. He is among the few Americans with a winning record in the Ryder Cup at 4-1-0.

But he is 30th in the standings and at least needs a runner-up finish at Oakland Hills.

“It's going in the right direction,'' he said of his game. “It's pretty simple. If I'm on the team, I'll be ready. I've proven that. Having said that, I need a miracle. I don't think he's interested in anything but young bombers.''

Verplank also doesn't think Mahan's critical comments about Ryder Cup largesse in a magazine article will hurt him.

“If it were up to me, I'd pick him right after I picked me,'' Verplank said with a laugh.

For those who don't make the team, Azinger compared the next three weeks with an audition for him. Even though the points table ends, Azinger has asked the PGA of America to continue keeping score.

One reason Azinger overhauled the qualifying system to base points on money was his style of play. He often says the only two things he ever choked over were cash and prestige. And now, there's another element with his picks.

“Now they are choking for prestige and cash and a chance to make the Ryder Cup team,'' he said. “So whoever is playing the best is being rewarded as far as I'm concerned, because they held up under the pressure of three really difficult scenarios.''

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