A revamped Ryder Cup system, but why stop there?

Wednesday, November 8th 2006, 9:58 am
By: News On 6

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (AP) _ After crunching numbers to apply the new Ryder Cup points system to the previous team, there appears to be only one conclusion: The Americans lost because they didn't have Arron Oberholser.

U.S. captain Paul Azinger did the right thing by asking to shake up the formula.

Instead of using the archaic system of awarding points based on top 10 placings over two years, he simplified the process by basing it on money, something that usually hits home with American players. Except for a few tweaks, the system closely mirrors how the Presidents Cup team is determined, and it's shocking that the PGA of America would ever agree to anything the U.S. PGA Tour thought of first.

But does it really matter?

Under the previous method, points were quadrupled in the Ryder Cup year with a 75-point bonus for winning and heavy emphasis on the majors. The top 10 players were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Chad Campbell, David Toms, Chris DiMarco, Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich.

The new system awards one point for every $1,000 (euro800) earned in the 2007 majors and 2008 U.S. PGA Tour events, and two points in the 2008 majors. Only eight players qualify, giving Azinger a record four captain's picks. Using that method, the U.S. team (in order) would have been Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, DiMarco, Campbell, Toms, Oberholser and Johnson.

So get rid of Taylor, Henry and Wetterich and replace them with Oberholser and four captain's picks, if Azinger can find four guys worth picking.

Really, how does this help?

Don't they still have to make putts?

``You're absolutely right,'' PGA president Roger Warren said. ``In the end, whatever team is out there has got to play better than the other team for a chance to win. It's all about playing. We want to make sure we give Paul the best opportunity to have the best team of players out there.''

One reason Oberholser might have helped this last team was because he ranked high in Azinger's system with a tie for 14th in the Masters and tie for 16th in the U.S. Open, which earned him nothing under the old formula. He also had top 20s against three other strong fields (Torrey Pines, Match Play and Byron Nelson).

The radical change was getting four captain's picks instead of two, which should help identify who's hot.

But even that isn't a guarantee. No one was playing better than Stewart Cink in 2004 when he was a captain's pick. He won at Firestone, tied for fourth at the Canadian, and then slipped into mediocrity when the Ryder Cup started.

Azinger got his captaincy off to a good start by changing the formula.

The key is not to stop there.

He could also change the order of play.

For years, the opening session was foursomes, an uncomfortable format (especially for Ryder Cup rookies) that requires a little more caution because every swing counts. Seve Ballesteros changed the order in 1997 (Europe won) and fourballs has been the opening format every year since then except 1999 (Europe lost).

Along those lines, talk the PGA of America into having morning and afternoon singles matches (eight plays each) on Sunday. That's how it was from 1963 to 1975, and the Americans never left town without the cup.

But that was when Europe was weak, so the format was changed to allow it to hide players. No one took it as seriously as Europe captain Mark James in 1999 when he hid three players until Sunday.

Europe no longer needs the help. Then again, the Americans can't even win singles these days.

Azinger also should get more involved in setting up Valhalla, specifically the speed of the greens. Americans do their best on slick greens, so jack them up to about 15 on the Stimpmeter, then see how fearless Europeans go after those 30-foot birdie putts.

Azinger knows what he is up against. Europe not only has won the last three Ryder Cups, the last two haven't even been close _ 18 1/2-9 1/2 home and away.

``The European Ryder Cup team is fantastic, and they have been for a long time,'' Azinger said. ``And it's about time we genuinely recognize that fact. We're doing everything we can by what we believe is improving the selection process.''