Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mickelson content to leave leadership to Azinger

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky: Phil Mickelson is reluctant to take on a leadership role for the United States at this week's Ryder Cup, despite being the most experienced American on the 12-man team.

Justin Leonard, Hunter Mayhan, Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson during a practice round for the 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, on Tuesday. AFP

The left-hander will be representing his country for the seventh time in the biennial competition but believes US captain Paul Azinger has given the host requisite direction and guidance.

"My only responsibility is to play well," world No 2 Mickelson told reporters on Tuesday after the first official day of practice at Valhalla Golf Club.

"That's something I've been working on and all of the players have been working hard on. We are all getting ready and hopefully we'll be sharp and have our 'A' game because we know that our competition is very strong.

"I think captain Azinger has been a wonderful leader for us," added Mickelson of a US team containing six rookies.

"One of the biggest challenges heading into a Ryder Cup is some of the uncertainty we'll face during the week. He's been a great captain and has given us great direction."

Mickelson has tasted victory only once in six matches against Europe and concedes the Americans will go into this week's matches as clear underdogs.

"I don't feel there's a question about that. Given our play and given the fact that we've lost our top player, that's the case," he said, referring to the absence of injured world No 1 Tiger Woods.

"But it doesn't mean that we can't come out and play well and, with the help of the crowd and with a golf course that's very well suited for many of our players, have a great week and possibly come out on top."

Europe is bidding for a fourth successive victory over the Americans. It won the last two matches by record-equaling margins of 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2.

Bittersweet memories

Justin Leonard produced one of the greatest Ryder Cup moments nine years ago when he holed a spectacular winning putt but the American said on Tuesday he wished he had done things differently.

Returning to the US Ryder Cup squad for the first time since 1999, Leonard recalled his snaking 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole in the last-day singles that clinched an astonishing fightback victory for the US over Europe.

The American win was marred by accusations of unsporting behavior over the three days, culminating in a charge across the 17th green by US players and their spouses shortly after Leonard had holed his spectacular putt.

His opponent Jose Maria Olazabal was yet to complete the hole.

"I would have done it differently," Leonard told reporters. "But I think you have to keep in mind there was so much emotion that day and we had so much momentum going, and unfortunately that spilled over into it.

"I certainly would have done some things differently. I know for myself and for anybody that was on that team, it didn't take away from our victory at all, but I think we all would have done some things differently."

Following years of escalating sniping between the Americans and Europeans, Brookline was a watershed in the Ryder Cup's transformation from a friendly competition to an ill-tempered affair.

Since Brookline the respective captains have succeeded in returning the spirit of sportsmanship to the Ryder Cup and while Leonard regrets the unpleasant scenes, the shot remains one of golf's most memorable.

"It's been nine years for me, and I've got some good memories of Ryder Cups, and hopefully I can bring some of those memories back and help the team as best I can," Leonard said.

"I've been asked about it a lot, been able to relive it quite a bit.

"It's been a lot of fun, especially in Boston at the Deutsche Bank a few weeks ago, being pretty close to Brookline, I heard it at least once a hole, so that was a very fun week."

Source: China Daily

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