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Azinger's magic can't save U.S.

9/29/2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- Paul Azinger's bunker shot on
the 18th hole might have been magical. Instead, it just delayed the
inevitable.

Azinger, picked for the Ryder Cup team because of his tenacity,
did all he could to keep the U.S. team in the Ryder Cup on Sunday,
sinking a sand shot on the final green that sent his teammates into
a frenzy and kept the Americans alive.

A few moments later, though, Jim Furyk couldn't do the same -- although he came awful close -- and
the Europeans were winners.

''I wish it would have been enough, but it was a great moment
for me,'' Azinger said.

With the U.S. team just a 2-putt from Niclas Fasth from losing
the Cup, Azinger splashed a shot out of the sand that trickled into
the cup for an unlikely birdie.

Azinger leaped in the air in celebration and his teammates
celebrated at greenside. When Fasth couldn't make his birdie putt a
few minutes later, the U.S. team still had hope.

Behind him, though, Furyk had lost the 17th hole. And when Furyk
barely missed making similar magic out of the bunker on 18 and Paul
McGinley made his par putt, the Ryder Cup was over.

Instead of going down in Cup lore, Azinger's shot will now be
little more than a Cup footnote.

Those who were there to admire it, though, knew better.

''The bunker shot of Paul Azinger in the last was probably the
best bunker shot I've ever seen,'' Lee Westwood said.

Azinger was 1-down and on the verge of losing when he hit his
second shot into the bunker to the left of 18. Fasth was 30 feet to
the right of the hole on the green and could clinch the Cup for the
Europeans if he won the hole.

''I asked my caddie before I hit it, 'I need to hole this, don't
I?' He didn't even answer me,'' Azinger said. ''I had to hole it.''

Azinger did just that, lofting the shot over a mound and
watching as it settled on the green and trickled down to the hole.

''I was lucky. I didn't even have a good lie,'' Azinger said.
''It was a little down slope, sitting kind of heavy in the sand and
it just came out great.''

Azinger's refusal to lose is what made him a captain's pick by
Curtis Strange after he didn't qualify for the team. He had never
lost in Ryder Cup singles, and had hit some memorable shots on the
same hole under pressure before.

In 1989 on the same hole at The Belfry he hit a 3-wood from 245
yards into a stiff breeze to a bunker and ended up getting a half
point when Seve Ballesteros put it in the water.

In 1993, he put his approach to 6 feet for a half with Nick
Faldo, and on Friday he stuck a 7-iron to tap-in range to nearly
pull out an opening match he was playing with Tiger Woods.

The bunker shot brought back memories to Azinger of the one he
holed from a greenside bunker on the final hole of the Memorial in
1993 to beat his friend, Payne Stewart, by a shot. The feeling this
time was different.

''When I holed to win to beat Payne I was almost sad about it,''
he said. ''I don't know how to describe this. It was a thrilling
moment.''