Sutton sticks with putting, experience

Updated: August 16, 2004, 5:11 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- You can add up all all the numbers, look at the world rankings, dissect the money list. You can do geometry, trigonometry or calculus. None of it really matters.

Hal Sutton on Monday picked two players, Jay Haas and Stewart Cink, to round out his U.S. Ryder Cup team that will take on the Europeans next month at Oakland Hills.

And who is to say that those not chosen are any better?

Sutton could have picked any of about eight guys and the reaction would be the same.

Nobody in that group of players who did not automatically qualify for the team did all that much to distinguish himself from the pack.

So Sutton used a couple of criteria -- putting and experience -- and chose Haas and Cink.

Do you want to argue the choices? Sure, there might have been a compelling reason or two to pick Steve Flesch. He at least won a tournament this year. Or Scott Verplank, who had a solid Ryder Cup two years ago. Or Justin Leonard, who was within a cold back-nine putter of winning the PGA Championship on Sunday and securing a spot on the team.

You could argue for Todd Hamilton, who along with Jonathan Byrd are the only Americans to win on the PGA Tour in the past three months.

You could even argue for John Daly, who won earlier this year and finished second at the Buick Open two weeks ago.

The trouble is, nobody simply stood out and made Sutton have to pick him.

Everybody had a chance to make the team on his own merit -- that's what Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley did on Sunday with their strong finishes -- while most of the others either played poorly at the PGA or didn't bring to the table a few other qualities that Sutton wanted.

"Good iron players and putters,'' Sutton said Monday at a news conference to announce his at-large selections. "And I said that two weeks ago. I've stood by that. I've played Oakland Hills quite a few times this summer, and I did that for a reason. I wanted to make sure that I was qualified to make the decision (based on) what I felt like it would take to play Oakland Hills well.

"Both guys drive the ball well. We need to be in the fairway in order to hit the ball at the flag. We need to be able to hit good iron shots so we can keep them below the holes. And it's going to be a lot easier to make a 15-foot uphill putt than it is an 8-foot downhill putt at Oakland Hills. Those are the things that weighed heavy on my mind when making the decision, and I'm happy with my decision.''

Haas skipped going to the Champions Tour this year in order to play against those half his age. Although he has not won since 1993, Haas has seven top-10 finishes this year. And he competed on two Ryder Cup teams, the last in 1995, going 3-4-1 in his matches. He is 31st this year on the PGA Tour in putting.

"I was emotional about it,'' said Haas, who is the second-oldest player behind Raymond Floyd (he was 51 in 1993) to be chosen for the team. "It was something I had pointed toward for the last couple of years now, and to realize that is pretty exciting.''

Cink won the MCI Heritage earlier this year and played on the 2002 team, going 1-2. Ultimately, the fact that he had played on a team before and ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour in putting put him ahead of the others.

"I don't ever remember being this flattered in my life,'' Cink said. "Just to know that the captain of the Ryder Cup thinks enough of me as a player and a person to pick me and put me on the team ... it's like a dream come true.''

Of the first eight players on the points list who did not qualify, only Cink and Flesch had victories this year. But Flesch, who shot a final-round 76 at Whistling Straits on Sunday when he was just two shots out of the top-10 entering the day, has never played on a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team.

And while Cink and Haas may have their warts, so did those they were competing against for the final spots.

Jerry Kelly, who was 13th, missed the cut at the PGA and Verplank had a poor finish. Leonard was 30th in points coming into the week, and Sutton said he couldn't pick him based on one tournament. With two victories, including the British Open, Hamilton might have been a good pick, but all of his points came from those two wins.

On paper, the American team will again be stronger than the Europeans. But the entire team has accounted for just six victories this year. Five players -- Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, DiMarco, Fred Funk and Riley -- are Ryder Cup rookies. And the U.S. has lost six of the last nine matches.

So debate the picks if you want. They might not be sizzling, clear-cut choices. But neither was anybody else.

"We didn't have that many guys to choose from that had a Ryder Cup record at all,'' Sutton said.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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