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Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Azinger says Europe is the favorite for Ryder Cup

Reuters

Ryder Cup implications

A career-defining opportunity is available this week. However the PGA Championship turns out this week at Oakland Hills, eight Americans will earn their way on to the Ryder Cup squad come Sunday. Bob Harig

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- The absence of the injured Tiger Woods from next month's Ryder Cup has bolstered Europe's status as favorites, according to U.S. captain Paul Azinger.

World No. 1 Woods, a member of the U.S. team at the last five Ryder Cups, was sidelined for the rest of this year in mid-June following reconstructive knee surgery.

"I don't see one single positive that Tiger Woods isn't on our team," Azinger told a news conference at Oakland Hills Country Club on Wednesday in the build-up to this week's U.S. PGA Championship.

"I can't imagine how you can argue a team would be better off without potentially the greatest player who has ever lived, certainly the greatest player of his era.

U.S. Ryder Cup Standings

After Sunday's PGA Championship, the eight automatic selections for the U.S. Ryder Cup team were finalized. The players are listed below with their point totals.

Rank* Player Points
1. Phil Mickelson 5342.50
2. Stewart Cink 4952.67
3. Kenny Perry 4480.70
4. Jim Furyk 4423.89
5. Anthony Kim 4035.30
6. Justin Leonard 3379.27
7. Ben Curtis 3120.06
8. Boo Weekley 2785.10
* Tiger Woods is ranked No. 1 but will not play due to injury.
"As far as I'm concerned, it really puts Europe in an advantageous place. It puts Europe in a favorite role. There's just no question about it.

"In the past when you looked at the teams on paper, you could maybe say it would be close and it turned out the last two weren't close at all. But to argue that Europe wouldn't be the favorite this time around would be very difficult."

The Americans have suffered three successive defeats to Europe in the biennial team competition, losing the last two by a record-squalling margin of 18-½ points to 9-½.

"We have been out-putted and also outplayed," said Azinger, who won his only major title in the 1993 PGA Championship.

"If Europe beats us again, then it's time to say maybe they are beating us because they are just that much better. They are great at team play and they seem to have some kind of chemistry that works really, really well."

Immediately after being named U.S. captain, Azinger announced a revamped selection process aimed at giving him the hottest players for the Sept. 19-21 matches at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

He will get four captain's picks instead of two with eight automatic berths on his 12-man team being decided after Sunday's final round at Oakland Hills.

"I like the way the team's shaped up," the 48-year-old said. "I couldn't be happier. It looks like there are at least six guys that are really secure to make this team."

The leading six players in the U.S. Cup standings are Stewart Cink, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim and Justin Leonard.

Although Azinger has the luxury of four picks instead of the traditional two, he accepts he faces a tough decision.

I can't imagine how you can argue a team would be better off without potentially the greatest player who has ever lived, certainly the greatest player of his era

--Paul Azinger on U.S. without Tiger Woods.

"The four picks are going to be a little more difficult than I thought," he said. "If I just take the top eight guys that are not in the top eight right now, go down to 16, there are a lot of really quality options there for me."

Woody Austin, Hunter Mahan, D.J. Trahan, Rocco Mediate, Sean O'Hair, 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and J.B. Holmes occupy the spots from ninth to 16th in the standings.

"Any of those guys I'm happy with and there's none of those eight guys that know for sure they are going to be on this team," said Azinger, who will name his four picks on Sept. 2.

"And there could be somebody all the way down to the 24th name that could get hot at the right time and just sidestep all those guys and go right to the top of my selection process."