U.S. captain Paul Azinger changes Ryder Cup opening matches back to alternate shot

U.S. captain Paul Azinger changes Ryder Cup opening matches back to alternate shot

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (AP) — U.S. captain Paul Azinger is switching the Ryder Cup format with hopes of giving his team an edge, going back to alternate shot in the opening matches for the first time since 1999.

“I felt like the Americans had an edge in alternate shot,” Azinger said on Wednesday at the FBR Open. “And I think it’s partly responsible for why Europe has gotten off to a pretty hot start.”

The Ryder Cup will be played from Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla, and the home captain gets to decide the order.

Alternate shot, or foursomes, had been used in the first sessions every year since 1981 until European captain Seve Ballesteros opened with better ball (fourballs) in 1997 at Valderrama. U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw switched back to alternate shot in 1999 at Brookline, but the last three Ryder Cup matches have started with better ball.

Europe has won the last three Ryder Cup matches, and five of the last six. The Americans have not led after the first of five sessions since 1991 at Kiawah Island.

Azinger said he also would work with the Valhalla superintendent on setting up the golf course. He credited Europe in recent years, particularly at The Belfry in 2002, for setting up the course that made fairways extremely narrow beyond 290 yards, which negated some of the power of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other big hitters.

He said the PGA of America has given him freedom to set the course up however it fits his team.

“Maybe if everybody hits it as straight as Jim Furyk … I don’t know if I can narrow the fairways, but I can sure have the rough deep,” Azinger said. “But if I have a bunch of Bubba Watsons, J.B. Holmes, Pat Perez, Phil Mickelson, guys that crank it and bomb it, maybe there won’t be rough. I don’t know yet. We’ll see.”

Azinger already has made one drastic change to the selection process, taking only the top eight players and basing the points entirely on money, with most of the points earned in 2008. Only money earned at the majors counted in 2007.

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