Azinger to Captain U.S. Ryder Cup Team

Thursday, November 2nd 2006, 8:52 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo have competed on the golf course and shared space in a television tower as commentators. The next time they square off will be as Ryder Cup captains in two years at Valhalla.

Azinger, a former PGA champion and cancer survivor who played in four Ryder Cups without losing a singles match, has been selected the next American captain, according to two people with knowledge of the appointment.

They did not want to be identified because the PGA of America has not announced its selection, which could come as early as next week.

Azinger did not immediately return a phone call.

He will be in charge of a U.S. team that has lost three straight times to Europe, including record margins (18 1/2-9 1/2) the last two matches. Last month in Ireland, Europe became the first team to win all five sessions of the matches.

``I think he'll bring a lot of fire,'' Jim Furyk said. ``He's a feisty player, a real competitor. I think he'll bring that attitude to the team.''

The PGA of America had talked to Azinger about being captain for the '04 Ryder Cup _ a captaincy that would have gone to his close friend, Payne Stewart, who died in a plane crash in 1999 _ but he declined.

Azinger said last week at the Chrysler Championship in Florida that he had spoken to the PGA of America, but stopped short of calling it an interview process.

Given how the Americans have been hammered the last two times, he was asked if wanted the job.

``Well, it's like everything to gain, nothing to lose now,'' Azinger said last week. ``Yes, I would like to do it.''

Europe already has announced Faldo, a six-time major winner, as its captain for the 2008 matches at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. The appointment of Azinger gives this Ryder Cup a history of captains.

Perhaps their most famous showdown came in a singles match at The Belfry in 1993, played a month before Azinger was diagnosed with lymphoma in his left shoulder. Faldo made a hole-in-one in that match, and even though the U.S. had earned enough points to win the cup, Azinger kept grinding, eventually earning a halve.

When NBC Sports later showed highlights of that match, Azinger quipped, ``Look at that. I had cancer and he still couldn't beat me.''

Azinger played in four Ryder Cups and had a 5-7-3 record, but he never lost in singles while playing some of Europe's best. Along with his halve against Faldo, he beat Seve Ballesteros in 1989 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 1991. He played his last Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 2002 and holed a bunker shot on the 18th hole to earn a halve against Niclas Fasth.

Azinger played Faldo four times in the Ryder Cup and had a 2-0-2 record. He played on winning teams in 1991 and 1993, and the United States lost in 1989 and 2002.

They moved to the broadcast booth in 2004 with ABC Sports, a deal that ends this week at the Tour Championship because ABC declined to sign a new TV contract with the PGA Tour for the next six years. Faldo has signed on with CBS Sports, and Azinger has gone back to golf, narrowly keeping his tour card for 2007.

Now that the PGA of America has a captain, its next step is to decide whether to tweak the points system that decides who plays. It overhauled the system for the '06 matches, allowing four rookies who had strong seasons this year to make the team.

``The bottom line is the players have to perform,'' Azinger said last week. ``And you have to have players that are playing well enough to get it done. If you have a team that's running cold against a team that's running blazing hot, then you have to look at the system to determine how you can change the system to get the best players _ the hottest players _ on your team at that event.''