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Azinger tries to keep chin up on the bench

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- He hid it well, trying to be a team player. But Paul Azinger was extremely disappointed to sit out Saturday, especially after performing well in a loss Friday.

But U.S. captain Curtis Strange kept Azinger and Hal Sutton on the sideline. Azinger was a particularly surprising omission because Strange has gone out of his way to praise the Bradenton golfer.

"Curtis is going with a hunch," Azinger said before the afternoon four-ball matches.

It had come down to Mark Calcavecchia, David Duval and Azinger, and Strange decided to pair the first two.

It was hard to argue with the decision, especially when Calcavecchia and Duval, 3-down, beat Niclas Fasth and Jesper Parnevik 1-up.

What wasn't addressed was why Azinger didn't replace Scott Hoch, 46, who played twice Saturday, losing one match and halving another. Or why Jim Furyk was asked to play all five matches. Furyk lost and tied his matches Saturday.

"It was a tossup," Strange said. "I said to Paul, "Can you make eight birdies out there in one round?' And he said no. I said Calc can, and so can Duval, and that's why he sat, as simple as that. Best ball takes a lot of birdies."

As for not putting Azinger with his first-day partner, Tiger Woods, Strange said: "I wanted to pair somebody with Tiger that would bring out his best. It's so crazy how personalities mesh as well as games."

Davis Love played with Woods twice Saturday, and they won both matches.

"I just thought Davis was a guy Tiger can relate to," Strange said. "Because they're both launchers off the tee and they can talk the same game and look at the same type shot."

NEVER GIVE UP: As Woods and Love walked off the 17th tee, their situation did not look good.

They were 1-down to Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood in their four-ball match. And Garcia had just laced a drive, putting himself in position to get to the green in two shots and set up birdie that would assure a tie for the Europeans.

"Davis said, "I've been here before, but I won,' " Woods said. "He was talking about when he beat Costantino Rocca. He was 1-down with two to go and he won his match, so he was saying just hang in there."

It was 1993 at the Belfry that Love came back on Rocca and helped the Americans win.

This time Woods and Love kept plugging away. When Garcia three-putted, missing a 3-foot birdie putt, the match was tied. The Americans won at the 18th when Garcia and Westwood missed par putts.

"It was just an amazing finish," Woods said. "We knew that anything can happen in match play, and it did. I stuff one in there (for birdie) on 17, and then Davis chipped in. I think everything swung on that putt (Garcia) missed on 17."

LANGER'S RECORD: When Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie halved their foursome match Friday with Phil Mickelson and David Toms, Langer became the leading scorer in Ryder Cup foursomes with 10 1/2 points, overtaking Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros. Langer, playing in his 10th Ryder Cup, added to that total Saturday morning when he and Montgomerie beat Scott Verplank and Hoch. Langer has 11 1/2 points in the alternate-shot format.

Despite playing so well with Montgomerie, Langer was held out Saturday afternoon, mainly to rest for today's singles.

"We've been having a wonderful partnership," said Langer, at 44 the oldest on the European team. "We first played together in '91 and enjoyed each other's company. Then we played together again in '97, Valderrama, and did well there. And it was superb the last three matches here, too. We were actually never down in all three matches. We were either up or level, and that's nice to be in that situation."

Langer has 23 points in his career, putting him second on the all-time European team list, two behind Faldo's 25.

FORGET HISTORY: For the Europeans, there was a feeling of opportunity missed, a lost chance to get ahead for some breathing room. History suggests the Europeans would have been better in the two-man events, but who knows? "We don't need any cushion," Thomas Bjorn said. "We've got good enough players on our side to win this. ... There's a big difference here with the crowd so much behind you, and it's a very, very good feeling."

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