BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Paul Azinger, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, declared Wednesday that his team will be the decided underdog against Europe in next month's matches, despite America's perceived "home course" advantage at Valhalla in Louisville. Azinger said this before the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, where the Europeans flogged the Americans in the Ryder Cup four years ago. That U.S. team had Tiger Woods, this year's won't, and Azinger said he can't think of one reason why losing the world's best player would make his squad better.
Azinger also indicated that he hasn't changed his mind about that intangible called "experience." America has lost five of the last six Ryder Cups, after all, so most of the "experienced" players are carrying bad experiences. "If I have seven Ryder Cup rookies on the team, which could happen, that wouldn't bother me at all," said Azinger, who will announce his four wildcard picks Sept. 2 after his top eight are secured by the end of the PGA Championship.
Azinger was asked by a gentleman scribe from the United Kingdom whether anything less than a victory next month could be deemed a success. "What do you think?" said Azinger. The answer seemed obvious, but the journalist pressed on, wanting Azinger to supply the succinct reply. "What do you think?" Azinger said again, smiling. The writer excused himself, saying it isn't he who is being paid to be a Ryder Cup captain. "I'm not being paid either," chirped Azinger, who can handle the heat of a press conference as well as anybody because he owns, among other assets, a sense of humor.
Azinger said that, for obvious reasons, he would like to see an American win the PGA Championship. His counterpart, Nick Faldo, also has some difficult choices looming, so a European triumph at Oakland Hills would help him.
But it says here that neither captain will get his wish because an Australian, Adam Scott, shall win his first major Sunday. That would be in keeping with the recent motif: Woods won the U.S. Open on one leg, Padraig Harrington was doubtful he could play a British Open on his ailing right wrist, and Scott has been sick as a dog lately. At the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, he felt weak and his body was sore from an ailment that still hasn't been diagnosed fully. It is similar to a problem he had earlier in the year, around Masters time, and as soon as he leaves Detroit, Scott will have a complete physical. He can show his doctor the Wanamaker Trophy.
-- Bob Verdi