Presidential Prospects

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TULSA, Okla. - In its zeal to oversell something few people understand or care much about - the FedEx Cup playoff series - the PGA Tour has all but ignored an entity it had been building into prominence.

Tiger Woods is a lock to compete in the Presidents Cup. Woods is ranked first for the U.S. team; the top 10 get in automatically.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Tiger Woods is a lock to compete in the Presidents Cup. Woods is ranked first for the U.S. team; the top 10 get in automatically.

The Presidents Cup - the Tour's answer to the PGA of America's lucrative Ryder Cup - will pit a U.S. team vs. the rest of the world (sans Europe) September in Montreal. The event starts two weeks after the Tour Championship at East Lake, but the preliminaries wrap up Monday with the selection of the captain's picks for both the American and International teams.

With the top 10 on each side getting firmed up at the conclusion of the PGA Championship today, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will have decisions to make. Conventional wisdom has typically meant that an international team rookie gets bypassed in this wild-card selection, but conventional wisdom hasn't proven too bright for the U.S. side in recent years in these team events.

"My belief is that you want guys that are hot, not necessarily guys that have experience," said Paul Azinger, who will have four captain's picks of his own for next year's Ryder Cup team. "And at this point I look at experience as like, any American who has had any kind of experience has been a bad experience anyway."

U.S. stalwart Phil Mickelson thinks experience shouldn't be the only criteria for joining the ranks.

"I think that on a team you want to have a good mixture," said Mickelson. "You want to have guys that have been there before, because they know what to expect and can help the guys who haven't on pacing themselves for the week and getting prepared properly. But on the other hand, you also want to have guys that are young, up-and-coming guys who are hungry and have not been on the team before because they bring an element of excitement and perspective that sometimes the guys that have been on 10, 12, 14 teams might lose for a while."

Nicklaus will have a certain amount of experience on his side already. The top nine players almost certain to qualify automatically all have at least one international team experience. So deviating from the usual plan and adding some fresh faces wouldn't be bad.

"I think it would be a great thing," said Stewart Cink, a veteran of six international teams. "In the interest of the U.S. in the Ryder Cup, we should get only new players. Make that a mandate."

One of the fresh faces Nicklaus should take without reservation is Hunter Mahan. Currently ranked 14th, Mahan is the hottest American golfer not named Tiger Woods, with seven consecutive finishes no worse than 22nd, including a victory in Hartford and a tie for sixth in the British Open.

"I feel I pretty much have to earn my way on the team," said the 25-year-old Mahan, who made the cut in the PGA. "I don't feel like rookies should be a captain's pick, honestly, but if I were I'd be extremely excited about it. It would be awesome."

Two other rookies are hovering on the bubble, with Lucas Glover in 10th just ahead of good friend John Rollins. Glover won't have to worry about Rollins overtaking him, since his housemate at Southern Hills missed the cut, but several other players could bump the former Clemson golfer from an automatic spot.

But like Mahan, Glover has four finishes in the 10th to 12th range in his past five starts and is playing as well as anyone up for consideration.

"I think that would be a great asset for the team to have players of the caliber of a Lucas Glover or Hunter Mahan," Mickelson said. "It can only help for the Ryder Cup, as well. I think we've played very well in the Presidents Cup, and I hope we continue that good play in Montreal. It would be great to get some good, young players on the Presidents Cup Team and have them continue to play well for the Ryder Cup."

One of the veterans Nicklaus is sure to consider is Chris DiMarco, the hero who made the winning putt in the anchor match of the last Presidents Cup in Virginia. DiMarco is way down the U.S. list in 25th and hasn't played up to the standards of a captain's pick, but his enthusiasm and history will earn him a lot anyway.

"You shouldn't rely on one week," said DiMarco, whose only top-10 of the year was last week at Firestone. "My game is getting back to what it should be. Hopefully, he remembers what happened last time."

Player has the luxury of some different choices considering that the current top 10 players on his list are all ranked among the top 25 players in the world. He will have two young rookies to mull - the red-hot Argentinian birdie machine Andres Romero and the smooth Australian putter Aaron Baddeley. Neither made the cut in the PGA and will be forced to rely on Player's judgment.

Established veterans with match-play credentials are Australians Nick O'Hern and Stuart Appleby. But the real issue Player might have to deal with is whether or not to give the host country somebody to cheer for.

"I think having it in Montreal deserves having a Canadian on the team," said Stephen Ames, who got his Canadian citizenship recently although he hails from Trinidad & Tobago.

Ames, currently 19th on the list, strengthened his chances to be that Canadian rep by moving into contention at the PGA. The most prominent Canadian, however, missed the PGA cut and sits 20th on the International team list. Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters Tournament champion, has been one of Player's best producers in the Presidents Cup, earning eight points in three previous appearances.

Weir's pedigree and past performance could give him an edge over Ames. A neck injury curbed Weir's recent surge, but he says that won't be a factor in September.

"I've done well in that competition, done well in all the big tournaments," Weir said. "The fact is I've made the last three teams and haven't been a pick, so I don't feel I'm wearing out my picks or anything like that.

"Gary's picked guys - Tim Clark was about 18th and Trevor (Immelman) was 22nd - so he's gone down the list before and those guys, at that time in their career, didn't have any experience. I want to play. I don't want to plead my case. I love the competition and it's at home. But I haven't talked to him and I haven't tried to lobby."

PRESIDENTS CUP

Where: The Royal Montreal Golf Club; Montreal, Canada


When: Sept. 24-30

STANDINGS

U.S. International
1. Tiger Woods 1. Ernie Els, SAf
2. Jim Furyk 2. Adam Scott, Aus
3. Phil Mickelson 3. Vijay Singh, Fij
4. Zach Johnson 4. Geoff Ogilvy, Aus
5. Charles Howell 5. Rory Sabbatini, SAf
6. David Toms 6. K.J. Choi, Kor
7. Scott Verplank 7. Retief Goosen, SAf
8. Steve Stricker 8. Angel Cabrera, Arg
9. Stewart Cink 9. Trevor Immelman, SAf
10. Lucas Glover 10. Andres Romero, Arg
11. John Rollins 11. Nick O'Hearn, Aus
12. Brett Wetterich 12. Stuart Appleby, Aus
13. Mark Calcavecchia 13. Aaron Baddeley, Aus
14. Hunter Mahan 14. Richard Green, Aus
15. Chad Campbell 15. Robert Allenby, Aus

(Through Monday)


-Associated Press


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