Azinger says Europe is the favorite for Ryder Cup

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- The absence of
the injured Tiger Woods from next month's Ryder Cup has
bolstered Europe's status as favorites, according to U.S.
captain Paul Azinger.

World No. 1 Woods, a member of the U.S. team at the
last five Ryder Cups, was sidelined for the rest of this year in
mid-June following reconstructive knee surgery.

"I don't see one single positive that Tiger Woods isn't on
our team," Azinger told a news conference at Oakland Hills
Country Club on Wednesday in the build-up to this week's U.S.
PGA Championship.

"I can't imagine how you can argue a team would be better
off without potentially the greatest player who has ever lived,
certainly the greatest player of his era.

"As far as I'm concerned, it really puts Europe in an
advantageous place. It puts Europe in a favorite role. There's
just no question about it.

"In the past when you looked at the teams on paper, you
could maybe say it would be close and it turned out the last two
weren't close at all. But to argue that Europe wouldn't be the
favorite this time around would be very difficult."

The Americans have suffered three successive defeats to
Europe in the biennial team competition, losing the last two by
a record-squalling margin of 18-½ points to 9-½.

"We have been out-putted and also outplayed," said Azinger,
who won his only major title in the 1993 PGA Championship.

"If Europe beats us again, then it's time to say maybe they
are beating us because they are just that much better. They are
great at team play and they seem to have some kind of chemistry
that works really, really well."

Immediately after being named U.S. captain, Azinger
announced a revamped selection process aimed at giving him the
hottest players for the Sept. 19-21 matches at Valhalla Golf
Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

He will get four captain's picks instead of two with eight
automatic berths on his 12-man team being decided after Sunday's
final round at Oakland Hills.

"I like the way the team's shaped up," the 48-year-old said.
"I couldn't be happier. It looks like there are at least six
guys that are really secure to make this team."

The leading six players in the U.S. Cup standings are
Stewart Cink, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony
Kim and Justin Leonard.

Although Azinger has the luxury of four picks instead of the
traditional two, he accepts he faces a tough decision.

"The four picks are going to be a little more difficult than
I thought," he said. "If I just take the top eight guys that are
not in the top eight right now, go down to 16, there are a lot
of really quality options there for me."

Woody Austin, Hunter Mahan, D.J. Trahan, Rocco Mediate, Sean
O'Hair, 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and
J.B. Holmes occupy the spots from ninth to 16th in the

"Any of those guys I'm happy with and there's none of those
eight guys that know for sure they are going to be on this
team," said Azinger, who will name his four picks on Sept. 2.

"And there could be somebody all the way down to the 24th
name that could get hot at the right time and just sidestep all
those guys and go right to the top of my selection process."