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Azinger logical choice to stay Ryder Cup captain

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - No one spent more time in the PGA of America hospitality room last month at Oakland Hills than Corey Pavin, presumably to start lobbying to be the next U.S. captain for the Ryder Cup.

The list of candidates has rarely been this short, nor has it been so obvious.

'Zinger in 2010,' Phil Mickelson said after the Americans reclaimed possession of the Ryder Cup.

Paul Azinger widened his eyes with what little strength he had left Sunday night when asked if he would consider devoting another two years as Captain America, this time with far more to lose than to gain.

'Zinger in 2010,' Justin Leonard added.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of winning golf's most passionate event, especially since it had been nine years since the Americans climbed to the balcony of a clubhouse for a champagne shower.

Captains sometimes get too much credit when they win, and even more blame when they lose. But for all the spectacular shots over three days at Valhalla that carried the United States to a 161/2-111/2 victory, the 'man of the match' might have been the one American who didn't hit a single shot.

It was Azinger who persuaded the PGA of America to scrap its archaic system of picking a Ryder Cup team. For 60 years, points were awarded to only the top 10 performances on a PGA Tour that did not include players from Fiji to Australia, from South Africa to South Korea. Azinger wanted the criteria based on money, the universal language in golf.

It was Azinger who got the Americans to play like a team, unlocking the secret to recent European dominance.

Even without the best player in the world - Tiger Woods' only involvement was text messaging Azinger - and a team comprised of six rookies and three veterans who knew nothing but losing in the Ryder Cup, his messages got through.

Enjoy the week. Embrace the crowd support. Forget recent history.

Trailing early in all four matches when the Ryder Cup began Friday morning, the Americans didn't panic and wound up taking a 3-1 lead for their first opening-session victory since 1991.

Europe never caught up.

'It was a dream start for them,' said Ian Poulter, who lost a 3-up lead that morning in what turned out to be his only loss of the week. 'They've always left it to the singles to press on. That was crucial to be that far in front after Friday and Saturday.'

By Sunday, the swagger returned.

Anthony Kim refused to concede a 2-foot birdie putt to Sergio Garcia on the opening hole, made five birdie putts inside 5 feet and gave Europe's best Ryder Cup player his worst loss. Boo Weekley, who provided comic relief and pure iron play, galloped off the first tee using his driver as a toy horse. Kenny Perry, who wanted this Ryder Cup to define his career, left the best impression.

And while Jim Furyk won the decisive point - fitting since it was Furyk who watched Europe celebrate on him when it began its winning streak at The Belfry in 2002 - the pivotal match belonged to Kentucky bomber J.B. Holmes.

Tied with Soren Hansen, he smashed consecutive drives to set up birdies on his final two holes for a 2-and-1 victory.

What was Holmes doing on the team as a captain's pick?

Azinger wanted someone who hit it far enough to get Europe thinking about him. Holmes put on a clinic at the practice range, one time pointing to the stage at the back end of the range and hitting a drive that landed on the roof.

'He hit it quite long,' Hansen said. 'But 'quite long' is probably an understatement. He hit it really long.'

Even as Hunter Mahan was getting criticized for saying in a magazine interview that the PGA of America cares more about the net income than the gold trophy from the Ryder Cup, Azinger said he would not hold that against him. He used one of his four captain's picks on Mahan, and the rookie tied a U.S. record for most points by a pick with a 2-0-3 mark.

Ultimately, the players are responsible for points and no one else. Even so, it was clear this U.S. team loved playing for its captain, another European trait.

'This team was more of a European team,' Padraig Harrington said.

The blame for Europe ultimately falls on Harrington, Garcia and Lee Westwood for not winning a match and combining to go 0-7-5. Europe's four rookies combined for a 6-5-2 record.

European captain Nick Faldo divided his team early when he snubbed Darren Clarke, the inspirational leader, even though he had won twice in the previous five months. Then he benched Westwood and Garcia for the first time in their careers. Finally, he put some of his best players this week (Poulter, Graeme McDowell) and this year (Harrington, Westwood) at the bottom of the lineup.

Faldo will get over it, and his team rose to his defense when British reporters challenged him on his decisions and asked how he felt to be the captain that presided over a losing team after Europe had won five of the last six times.

'That question doesn't deserve an answer,' vice captain Jose Maria Olazabal said.

'Thank you,' Faldo added.

One question the PGA of America should consider for 2010 in Wales: Why not Azinger?

Ben Hogan was the last U.S. captain to serve consecutive terms in 1947-49, when the Ryder Cup resumed after World War II. Before that, Walter Hagen was captain of six straight U.S. teams. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead each had multiple stints.

Many see the Ryder Cup captaincy as a right, not a privilege. The PGA of America allowed Azinger to think outside the box, and that went a long way toward winning. Now it wants to return to a model that didn't always work?

The Ryder Cup is not about who's turn it is to be captain.

It's about points. It's about winning.

'I'm not going to think about it,' Azinger said Sunday evening when asked if he would like to do this again. 'I'm just going to stay up all night and party with my boys.'