2006: Lehman sticks his picks

Medinah, Ill.

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman made the right two picks. Stewart Cink has four top-5 finishes since mid-May, and gritty Scott Verplank is a straight driver and good putter who talks like this: “I told Tom I was put on Earth to play in things like this.”

Those two solid veterans, both former captain’s picks and winning 2005 Presidents Cup players, were chosen off a Lehman short list that also included Davis Love III, Lucas Glover, Steve Stricker and assistant captain Corey Pavin.

There are no surprises with Cink and Verplank. In one sense, their choices were no-brainers for a 12-man team, especially when considering four Ryder rookies qualified on points and that the Americans have failed to win seven of the last 10 against Europe and are playing abroad this time, Sept. 22-24 at The K Club in Ireland.

The European team will be finalized Sept. 3 following the BMW International Open.

Both of Lehman’s picks have excelled in the pressure of international team play. Lehman used the word “tough” in describing both. Cink was picked last time, two years ago by Hal Sutton, the same year Verplank was upset that he was passed over in favor of Jay Haas.

Cink is 2-4-1 in two Ryder Cups but 5-3-1 in two Presidents Cups. He’s sixth on the PGA Tour in final-round scoring average.

Verplank has overcome numerous injuries, most recently a shoulder ailment that held him back after two runner-up finishes at the start of the year. He went 2-1 in the 2002 matches at The Belfry and was 2-2-1 in the Presidents Cup last fall.

He’s 42 and weighs only 165 pounds, but Verplank has a game and heart that suit this format. He might be the Tour’s best when it comes to straight tee shots and good putting combined. He ranked ninth in both categories last year, and he’s even better in 2006 – fourth in driving accuracy, third in putting.

“You need guys who can put the ball in the fairway and putt and chip,” Lehman said.

Cink and Verplank were 12th and 20th, respectively, in points, but they were sixth and ninth on a supplemental list Lehman kept that would reward points for players who were among the top 10 Americans in tournaments over the last two years.

“At the end of the day you have to know what you’re getting,” said Lehman, who made the picks the morning after the PGA Championship, after two hours of sleep. “I feel I know what I’m going to get with those guys day after day, round after round, shot after shot. To me, that’s important. . . . The trust factor is huge. . . . I want tough, mentally strong guys who never quit.”

Lehman and his players will visit The K Club for a couple of days early next week. Though leading players Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are questionable because of prior commitments, Lehman said it’s foolish to question their Ryder passion, that he has every reason to believe they will be spirited team leaders. He spoke with Mickelson by telephone for 35 minutes Sunday night after the PGA final round, and winner Woods called him on his way to the airport.

Lehman’s choices give him the possibility of at least four good teams: Woods-Jim Furyk, Mickelson-Chris DiMarco, David Toms-Chad Campbell and Verplank-Cink.

He can fill in with newcomers Zach Johnson, Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry and Brett Wetterich as he sees fit. Johnson is known for his short game, Taylor for his dislike of losing, Henry for his all-around ability and Wetterich for his power and birdie-making.

Lehman eliminated Love, a member of every Ryder-Presidents team since 1993, and Glover because they have struggled lately. Stricker may have been the toughest to pass up, for he sandwiched top 7s at the U.S. Open and PGA with a Booz Allen runner-up finish.

“The two guys I did pick,” Lehman said, “make the team very complete.”

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