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Captains reveal differing philosophies with singles line-ups
By Jim Litke, AP Sports Columnist
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- U.S. Captain Paul Azinger and his European counterpart Nick Faldo competed ferociously at golf when both were still players, then added poker, fly fishing, and even who could make the most commercials to the mix once they became Ryder Cup captains. On Saturday, they crossed swords one final time.
The day ended with the United States holding a 9-7 lead when both captains submitted their lineups for Sunday's dozen singles matches. But it easily could have been 8-8 had Swede Robert Karlsson's 12-footer dropped for eagle instead of his still very impressive seventh birdie to halve the final afternoon better-ball match.
It should have come as no surprise that the captains took different approaches filling out their rosters, because while Azinger and Faldo have a few things in common -- both segued from playing to the broadcast booth, each stole a major from Greg Norman's grasp -- there are many more differences.
Azinger boldly stacked his lineup at the front. He put his toughest quartet out first: In order, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Justin Leonard and Phil Mickelson. In picking his middle four, Azinger apparently was relying as much on a lift from the hometown crowd as he was on the players' skills; he put Kentuckian Kenny Perry at No. 4, followed by Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes, another homestate lad, and steady Jim Furyk at No. 8.
But if the Americans haven't locked up 5 points by then, things could get really interesting. Other than Stewart Cink at No. 9, there's not a player in Azinger's last three -- Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell -- who should be favored.
"There was a little bit of discussion about it, and we kind of had a big group huddle," Azinger said. "I already had this in my mind that this is how I wanted to do it, and I was just getting a little confirmation.
"Anyone who tried to make it any different," he said smiling, "I just explained to them why I thought they might be wrong."
Both of the uncharacteristic gambles Faldo has taken so far have worked out beautifully. His much-criticized selection of Ian Poulter as a captain's pick was more than validated by the Englishman's 3-1 record in his four matches. Ditto for Faldo's even more-criticized decision to sit Euro stalwarts Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia in the morning, when their teammates wrested 2 points of a possible four from the U.S. side.
But the Europeans' last-day lineup is vintage Faldo, cautious and with an eye out for every contingency. Plus, because the Euros have the cup, they would retain it if the matches finish 14-14, which means they need only seven points.
He, too, opted for toughness out of the gate, slotting Garcia in the No. 1 spot. But the players from No. 2 through No. 9 are almost interchangeable parts. If it's still up for grabs at that point, bet on Europe.
Poulter, the hottest player in these matches is at No. 10, followed by Westwood, the longest-serving member on either team, and then Padraig Harrington, winner of this season's final two majors.
"We've been in there for half an hour doing this," Faldo said. "We got in there and everybody was involved in this. So we've thought long and hard about it. It's been an extremely tight match so far, so we will see."
As for holding his best player until last -- a move that backfired in 2002, when the Europeans won with Tiger Woods still playing the 17th -- Faldo said simply, "Padraig wanted to go there."
The last time the U.S. led going into the final day was on home soil at Oak Hill in 1995, which should serve as a reminder that momentum is everything at the Ryder Cup. The question is whether a team will need it at the beginning or the end.
"I don't know if this has a theme to it, but most importantly I deal with present time, right now," Faldo said. "You take the experience from the past, but you have to make a decision in the present. Experience is relative."