US Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman has sprung a minor surprise after he announced the selection of Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank as his two wildcard picks for the US team ahead of the biennial clash with Europe at the K Club next month.

Lehman (pictured) had been widely tipped to choose Cink alongside Ryder Cup veteran Davis Love III, who had featured in the last six Ryder Cups. However, Love has endured an inconsistent season and he has paid the ultimate price for his up-and-down form. His season was typified by his performance at last week’s USPGA Championship, where he started well but faded to finish in a tie for 34th place. He had enjoyed nine top ten finishes in 2005 and finished runner-up to US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy at the Accenture Matchplay Championship in February, but failed to make the top ten in any strokeplay event in 2006. Love’s 42% win ratio in the Ryder Cup is far from solid, and it now looks like the 42 year-old will not get another chance to improve on it.

Cink has enjoyed a fine season and after finishing in an agonising 12th position in the qualification standings he will be relieved to have made the team. He has claimed three top five finishes in the last two months and it appears that this has clinched his selection. He has made two Ryder Cup appearances in the past and will be hoping to banish the memories of the USA’s record defeat in 2004 at Oakland Hills.

Verplank, a former US Amateur champion, made his only Ryder Cup appearance at The Belfry in 2002, where he secured two points for the defeated US team. He has not won an event on the USPGA Tour since 2001 but started the 2006 season in good form with two consecutive runners-up positions. His tie for fourth place in the recent Buick Open looks to have forced Lehman’s hand.

The US team will feature four rookies and three players with only one Ryder Cup appearance on their CVs (see below), which is partly the reason why Lehman had been tipped to pick Love. The American team that was defeated so comprehensively last time contained five rookies and those American writers who are predicting a similar result are already pointing their fingers at the revamped qualifying system, which grants the same amount of points for winning the so-called ‘minor’ Tour events as it does the more presitigious ones (excluding the Majors, which offered a bumper amount of qualifying points). Europe have been installed as 8/11 favourites to retain the trophy and the showpiece event runs from September 22/24. The European team will be finalised on September 3rd.

US Team For The 36th Ryder Cup:

Player/Caps/Points Earned

Tiger Woods, 4, 8

Phil Mickelson, 5, 10.5

Jim Furyk, 3, 5

Chad Campbell, 1, 1

David Toms, 2, 4.5

Chris DiMarco, 1, 2.5

Vaughn Taylor, 0, 0

JJ Henry, 0, 0

Zach Johnson, 0, 0

Brett Wetterich, 0, 0

Stewart Cink, 2, 2.5

Scott Verplank, 1, 2