You're in good hands with...Lefty? Ryder Cup U.S. Captain Paul Azinger taps Mickelson to lead American charge
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The United States Ryder Cup team is swinging for the fences with it’s lead-off hitter tomorrow morning at Valhalla.
In an attempt to end a dismal losing streak to the European team, captain Paul Azinger is counting on the sometimes brilliant, sometimes miserable, always entertaining World No. 2 to lead the charge, pairing Phil Mickelson in the opening 8:05 match with young stud Anthony Kim.
They’ll go up against Europe’s Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson.
Mickelson’s recent Ryder Cup record has been abysmal. It’s progressively gotten worse through the years even, culminating in a goose egg 0-4-1 record in 2006. He hasn’t done much in the second half of the 2008 Tour season either. May 25th was his last victory at the Crowne Plaza Invitational and he’s seldom been a factor since.
Azinger’s moves have appeared calculated to suit Mickelson’s game in particular. For starters, Azinger ensured the rough was mowed down plenty.
“I didn’t want the players to feel handcuffed off the tee,” said Azinger today. “If they hit it in the rough, I wanted them to be able to hit shots.”
No one finds the rough quite like Mickelson, but no one is more imaginative from Position F if given a tiny window than him, either.
Azinger also heeded Mickelson’s request, above other U.S. players, to play with the hot commodity Anthony Kim.
“Phil called me about playing with [Kim]…so did about six other guys.”
But Kim expressed mutual interest in Phil and the two have been playing together all week, so Azinger pulled the trigger. They will set the tone tomorrow versus Faldo’s A-team: Harrington and Karlsson. Though Harrington hasn’t fared well in the FedEx Cup, he stands as the front runner to take home Player of the Year honors on tour thanks to winning the year’s last two majors. Karlsson is the most recent winner at Valhalla this week, winning the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Germany on Sunday.
Azinger’s decision to put Mickelson off first is a risky one. He is 0-2-3 in opening day foursomes. A breakthrough however, could galvanize the American squad. It could also come in the hands of Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk taking down the formidable pairing of Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.
One bad sign for Mickelson & Kim, at least to me, is that swing coach Butch Harmon was walking the course with Mickelson today. Mickelson needs the fewest amount of voices around him as possible, or else he just might be talked into doing something stupid, like leaving driver out of the bag when playing the longest U.S. Open course in history. Mickelson is at his best when he plays like he’s in the backyard again.
They say the first step to success is putting yourself in the best possible position, and Azinger has done that with Mickelson. Now it’s up to Lefty to deliver.
Below is the full list of pairings for tomorrow morning’s foursomes. Stay tuned to WorldGolf.com for full Ryder Cup coverage all weekend.
Phil Mickelson & Anthony Kim vs. Padraig Harrington & Robert Karlsson
Justin Leonard & Hunter Mahan vs. Henrik Stenson & Paul Casey
Stewart Cink & Chad Campbell vs. Justin Rose & Ian Poutler
Kenny Perry & Jim Furyk vs. Lee Westwood & Sergio Garcia
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Poor Kenny Perry. He choked on 18 after missing a putt on the 17th. Tough break.
It's good to see all of that American fist-pumping. We'll see how long that lasts!