Will Cink and Verplank make a difference?

Updated: August 21, 2006, 3:08 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Tom Lehman was caught in a conundrum. With a Ryder Cup roster that has four international team rookies, he needed to use his two captain's picks on experienced veterans. Then again, with a handful of long-bombing, risk-reward types on the squad, Lehman also was seeking accurate players with strong short games.

In selecting Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank as those two wild-card picks on Monday, Lehman satisfied both criteria. By all accounts, the captain made a pair of solid, noncontroversial choices that will hardly make waves or ruffle feathers throughout the U.S. lineup.

"The two guys that I did pick, I believe make the team very complete," Lehman said. "I think they were two guys that deserve, without question, to be on this team."

Which brings to mind this big-picture query: Does it matter? Will the final two men on the roster make a difference in whether the Americans can claim the Ryder Cup for only the second time in the last six competitions?

History says ... maybe. Two years ago, Cink and Jay Haas were chosen by captain Hal Sutton, and each performed to a 1-2-1 record, losing their Sunday singles matches. Then again, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones in their primes wouldn't have been enough to help guide the U.S. team past the Europeans, who summarily defeated the Americans, 18-9.

Before that, no captain's pick had lost a singles match since 1995. Verplank and Paul Azinger combined for 1 of the team's 4 Sunday points in 2002; Lehman and Steve Pate were instrumental in the victory at Brookline, as both collected singles wins on that fateful day in 1999; and Fred Couples and Lee Janzen nearly led the U.S. to an improbable come-from-behind win in 1997.

In two previous Ryder Cup appearances, Cink has been underwhelming, going 1-2-0 in 2002 and 1-2-1 in '04, losing his singles match each time. Verplank has competed in only one Ryder Cup and fared well, taking a 2-1-0 record in '02.

Although Lehman claimed it was a priority to have recent champions on his squad, it'll be two years to the day on Tuesday since either Cink or Verplank earned a PGA Tour victory (Cink claimed the 2004 NEC Invitational; Verplank hasn't won since 2001). Neither will be confused with Tiger Woods at the K Club -- of course, who is? -- but each should blend well into the lineup. Verplank, in particular, meets Lehman's combined goals of pinpoint accuracy and deft short game; he is ranked fourth on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy and third in putting average.

With inexperienced players Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich automatically qualifying for the team, it's possible Cink and Verplank might see more action than past captain's picks have. However, Lehman stated that it's likely each player on the roster will see action throughout Friday and Saturday of the tournament.

"I would want the guys to play before the singles, no doubt," Lehman said. "How much is probably up in the air depending on, you know, how their game is, whatever it might be. But I definitely would want my guys all to have a taste of the action before the singles gets there."

It's certainly a plausible idea. The most recent -- and most famous -- example of a captain benching certain players during the first two days of foursomes and four-ball matches occurred in 1999, when European head Mark James waited until Sunday to let rookies Andrew Coltart, Jarmo Sandelin and Jean Van de Velde tee it up. All three lost their singles matches as their squad relinquished the Cup.

With each U.S. player assured of multiple matches next month, there will be an onus on Cink and Verplank to perform up to standards. As the only two players hand-picked for the team, how they fare will go a great ways toward how Lehman is remembered as a captain.

On Monday, Lehman disclosed that Cink and Verplank made the team over four other players on his short list: Davis Love III, Lucas Glover, Steve Stricker and assistant captain Corey Pavin. Next month, we'll find out just how much, if at all, these selections mattered.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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