Lehman fills out Ryder Cup team with experience

Published 7:16 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tom Lehman sorted through numbers on a chart and the feeling in his gut, trying to decide which two players would help the United States end a dozen years of European dominance in the Ryder Cup.

He simply wanted the best, and picked up some experience along the way.

Lehman chose Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank as his two captain’s picks Monday morning, leaving Davis Love III at home for the first time since 1993 and raising questions about how much winning really mattered in the selection process.

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“I think what I’m wanting more than anything is a team that is just tough — strong guys that will never give up,” Lehman said. “And it came down where Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink made their decision for me.”

Cink, 33, was one of the few wild-card selections who showed signs of life over the last few months, with three finishes in the top five to climb to No. 12 in the standings. He also was a captain’s pick two years ago and will be playing the Ryder Cup for the third time.

The 42-year-old Verplank was a mild surprise.

He was a leading candidate to be a pick coming into the PGA Championship because of his accuracy off the tee and his putting, two key elements in match play. But he missed the cut after making two double bogeys on the final three holes at Medinah. Verplank, the first player to make his Ryder Cup debut as a captain’s pick in 2002, finished 20th in the standings.

“I’m so pumped,” Verplank said. “I don’t know how you can have a better event than the Ryder Cup. I told Tom I was put on this earth to play in things like this.”

The 10 who qualified during the two-year process were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Chad Campbell, David Toms, Chris DiMarco, Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich.

The last four have never played in the Ryder Cup, and Taylor has never competed in any form of match play.

The Ryder Cup is Sept. 22-24 at The K Club in Ireland. Europe has captured the cup seven of the last 10 times, including an 18 1/2-9 1/2 victory two years ago in Oakland Hills.

Europe’s team will not be determined until after the BMW International Open on Sept. 3 in Germany.

“Clearly, Tom’s decision to go with experience provides the United States with balance, considering that there are four rookies in their team,” European captain Ian Woosnam said. “Both have played Ryder Cup, World Cup and Presidents Cup golf for their country, and therefore will bring a lot of international experience to Ireland.”

This U.S. team has seven players who have won PGA Tour events this year, up from five players in 2004. Part of that was due to a revamped points system that emphasized how a player fared in the year of the matches, with a bonus for winning and quadruple points in the majors.

What made Lehman’s picks intriguing is that Cink hasn’t won in two years, while Verplank hasn’t won in five.

Then again, Lehman’s options were limited.

Of the players who finished between Nos. 11 and 25 in the final standings, only four players had won this year — John Rollins (11) at the B.C. Open, Tim Herron (17) at Colonial; Arron Oberholser (22) at Pebble Beach; and Dean Wilson (23) at the International.

“There’s not a lot of guys doing a lot of winning, period,” Lehman said.