PAUL AZINGER – CAPTAIN
Played 4, Matches 15, W5, L7, H3, Point % 0.43
An experienced Ryder Cupper himself, the 48-year-old Captain is in many ways similar to his opposite number, Nick Faldo. Their relationship has been the subject of much debate recently and although much of it is due to the natural rivalry created by the Cup itself, the pair do have a history. In 1993 they halved their match when many others would have picked up after the US had already secured victory. Perhaps this best encapsulates their sheer desire to win. With 14 career victories and one Major win, Azinger will not take the Ryder Cup lightly and his often outspoken manner is bound to stoke up his team and the US support.
Phil Mickelson (1995-97-99-2002-04-06)
Played 6, Matches 25, W9, L12, H4, Total 11, Point % 0.44
Three-time Major-winner Mickelson is arguably America’s equivalent of Seve Ballesteros, with an unerring ability to get up and down from seemingly impossible positions. Valhalla will be the Californian’s seventh Ryder Cup and despite a meagre 44% strike rate, it would surely be unwise to bet against the 38-year-old improving those statistics. Rarely outside the top-20 this season, Mickelson won’t have to worry about being paired with ‘frosty’ rival Tiger Woods and, if selected with the right teammate, expect the world No.2 to put some points on the board.
Stewart Cink (2002-04-06)
Played 3, Matches 12, W3, L5, H4, Total 4, Point % 0.21
In 2004 Cink finished top of the PGA Tour putting stats with an amazing average of 1.723 putts per green. The 35-year-old has struggled to convert good opportunities when well placed – seven top-10 finishes from 19 events so far this season. Cink won the Travelers Championship in June although the Majors have suggested a level of inconsistency – third at The Masters with missed cuts at the British Open and PGA Championship.
Kenny Perry (2004)
Played , Matches 2, W0, L2, H0, Total 0, Point % 0.00
Local man, Perry will look at Valhalla as an opportunity to improve his 100% Ryder Cup losing record and make amends for his second at the 1996 USPGA. With three wins on the PGA Tour this season, the 48-year-old has an impressive birdie average of 3.86, a statistic highly important in fourball matches. However, Perry opted not to play in the British Open, withdrew from the PGA Championship and made little impression at The Barclays in August, which raises doubts about his current form.
Jim Furyk (1997-99-2002-04-06)
Played 5, Matches 20, W6, L12, H2, Total 7, Point % 0.35
Furyk may only average fractionally over 270 yards off the tea, but the Pennsylvanian’s accuracy more than compensates for this deficiency, as his tied 15th scoring average on the PGA Tour would support. US Open Champion in 2003, the 38-year-old relishes a tough course and testing conditions. It is, therefore, a surprise that such a consistent performer has such a poor Ryder Cup strike rate of just 35%. Without a win on the PGA Tour this season, but tied fifth at the British Open in July, Furyk will add a wealth of experience to the US side.
Anthony Kim (Rookie)
If Mickelson and Furyk are the wise heads of the US team then Kim represents the ‘confidence of youth.’ At 23, Kim has already had a massive impact across the pond, winning twice and becoming the first person to do so under the age of 25 since Tiger Woods in 2000. With an average drive of over 300 yards, Kim would compliment the likes of Furyk although, with a driving accuracy of only 59%, the youngster is not the complete package.
Justin Leonard (1997-99)
Played 2, Matches 8, W0, L3, H5, Total 2.5, Point % 0.31
Now 36, Leonard seems to have been around for much longer. This may partly be due to the Texan’s return to form in recent years since bursting onto the scene in 1997 when he won the British Open. Perhaps Leonard’s most memorable moment in the Ryder Cup was the 45-foot birdie put that won the Cup for the Americans and sparked wild celebrations before Jose Maria Olazabal had even putted. This gutsy performer, making his first appearance since that Brookline affair, will add notable experience to the American side.
Ben Curtis (Rookie)
Although a debutant, Ben Curtis brings not only talent but also masses of fighting ability – a prerequisite of any Ryder Cupper. No more evident was this quality when Curtis, going AWOL after his surprise 2003 British Open win, stormed back to win twice in ’06. Two runners-up spots this season have shaped the 31-year-old into a resilient type who has been knocking on the door again this season – most notably his tie for second at the PGA Championship. Paul Azinger need look no further for a man in good form.
Boo Weekley (Rookie)
Rookie Boo Weekley’s idol is Ryder Cup legend Ben Hogan and maybe such admiration for one of the competition’s greats, will spark fresh impetus into the Americans who have arguably lacked spirit in recent years. With his win at the Verizon Heritage in April, the 35-year-old has earned his place although his current form is not so impressive – missed cuts at The Barclays and the British Open.
*Steve Stricker (Rookie)
Stricker will be making his Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla. His last win on the PGA Tour was back in 2007 at The Barclays. Mid-season, Stricker missed four successive cuts, which included The Masters and the Players Championship. However, the 41-year-old has had five top-10 finishes this season and finished tied seventh at the British Open in July. A good showing in the Deutsche Bank Championship suggests that Stricker is in reasonable form.
*Chad Campbell (2004-06)
Played 2, Matches 6, W1, L3, H2, Total 2, Point % 0.33
Campbell is another of those keen to improve his meagre return of one win in six Ryder Cup matches. Now 34, Campbell’s best finish this year was tied second at the Shell Houston Open. The Texan was also in the mix at the Deutsche Bank Championship where he finished in a tie for seventh. Perhaps best remembered for his narrow second at the 2003 USPGA, Valhalla will be Campbell’s third successive Ryder Cup. Also of note is Campbell’s ability to handle all kinds of tricky weather conditions.
*Hunter Mahan (Rookie)
One of the youngsters of the team, Jack Nicklaus rated the Californian enough to select him for the Presidents Cup. Indeed, at just 26, Mahan has become somewhat of a household name and frequently features on the leaderboard on the PGA Tour. Rated fifth in the greens-in-regulation stats, Mahan is a useful wildcard addition to the US team. Of concern will be his inability to make an impact on the biggest stage – he has missed the cut in three of this season’s four Majors. That said, Captain Paul Azinger describes the world No.37 as a “lion.”
*JB Holmes (Rookie)
As a local, Holmes will relish the chance to play Valhalla in his first Ryder Cup. The 26-year-old is renown for his length off the tee – averaging over 300 yards. Holmes won the FBR Open in February by beating Phil Mickelson in a play-off, proving he has the ability to mix it with the world’s best. The Ryder Cup may be new, but as a successful Walker Cupper, Holmes knows all about matchplay and may just be the dark horse of the US side.
* Denotes Paul Aznger’s Wild Card Pick’s.