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European Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo (left) and his side currently own what Paul Azinger and his desperate want back. (Photo: Getty Images)

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Azinger prepared for tough choices

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Paul Azinger said he'd be happy to pick any of the players currently ranked No. 9-16 on the U.S. points list, but added that he also could go way down to find the right players for his underdog squad.

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Hoping to reverse a trend that has seen Europe win five of the last six Ryder Cups, U.S. team captain Paul Azinger lobbied hard -- and successfully -- for The PGA of America to institute a new selection process for the United States team. Now, with six weeks left until the 37th Ryder Cup takes place at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., Azinger said Wednesday during a news conference at the 90th PGA Championship that he feels confident -- and some pressure -- in enacting the changes that he desired so intently.

"There's a lot of really good choices," he explained.

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The team will be comprised of eight qualifiers from the U.S. points list, which will be cemented following this week's PGA Championship, and four captain's picks that Azinger will announce on Sept. 2 in New York City. The current field of players ranked 9-16 are separated by less than 300 points and have all piqued his interest.

"Any of those guys I'm happy with and there's none of those eight guys that know for sure they are going to be on this team," Azinger explained. "And there could be somebody all the way down to the 24th name that could get hot at the right time and just sidestep all those guys and go right to the top of my selection process. As you can see, there's a zillion choices. I think it's very compelling and it's going to be worth watching the next few weeks to see what happens.

In a wide-ranging press conference at Oakland Hills Country Club, Azinger touched on a variety of topics, including his often prickly relationship with European captain Nick Faldo and his belief that Europe would enter the matches as a prohibitive favorite.

Among the topics Azinger discussed:

The selection process: More difficult than he anticipated with so many good players in contention for the team.

Criteria he's using: Everything from playing statistics to personality traits.

Criteria he's not: Experience is overrated. Most of the U.S. team only has experience losing at the Ryder Cup.

Valhalla course setup: If he can find an advantage for the U.S. team, he will. Thus far, he has not.

Crowd behavior: He hopes it's not an issue. He might address it during opening ceremonies.

Azinger spoke for 40 minutes, showing subdued confidence in the process and his preparation, though readily acknowledging that he believed Europe to be a prohibitive favorite to continue its recent success.

"In the past when you looked at teams on paper, you could maybe say that it would be close and it turned out the last two weren't close at all," Azinger replied when asked how the talent of the two teams seemed to stack up.

But in light of the absence of the top-ranked Tiger Woods, who is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery on June 24, Azinger added, "But to argue that Europe wouldn't be the favorite this time around would be very difficult."

For the full transcript of Azinger's Press Conference, click here (.pdf).

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