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Published: Thursday, 8/12/2004

Daly makes Sutton's Ryder choice tough

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

HAVEN, Wis. - The tickets are all sold, television viewership will rank in the hundreds of millions, the commercial time is spoken for, and the merchandise tent will feature empty shelves by the time it's over.

So Hal Sutton has only one interest as he contemplates his upcoming captain's picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

"When the officers of the PGA of America asked me to be captain, they gave me one mission - win," Sutton said yesterday at Whistling Straits, site of the PGA Championship that begins this morning. "So when I look down the list of the top 25 names, 10 will be automatic and I'll pick two guys who I feel can help us win. Period."

Which brings us to John Daly. There is no reason for his star power to impress Sutton. But does his game?

Well, yes and no. Try maybe.

"There are two par 5s at Oakland Hills," the suburban Detroit club where the matches will be played, Sutton said. "So John's length would not be that big a factor. There are more par 3s and par 4s, so if you look at those stats you'll find out what I think is important and what's not important."

In his next breath, Sutton said: "John's short game is much better than anybody gives him credit for."

So go figure.

The Ryder Cup will be held at Oakland Hills Sept. 17-19. Six players - Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry, and David Toms - have clinched berths on the American team through a points system that grinds to a halt after Sunday's final round of the PGA Championship.

The top 10 on the points list Sunday night make the team. On Monday, Sutton will announce his two wild-card picks. It is a process that he is holding very close to his vest.

"Between ninth and 14th on the list there is a difference of 29 points," Sutton said. "I mean, that's not very many points. So we may see some jockeying around this week."

Currently, Chad Campbell, Fred Funk, Steve Flesch, and Jay Haas round out the top 10 on the points list. Jerry Kelly is 11th and, by all accounts, is a Sutton favorite. Stewart Cink, Jeff Maggert,

and Scott Verplank are the others, in order, in that tight crush between eighth and 14th.

Maggert is skipping the PGA because his wife is about to deliver twins. He and Sutton are close friends and have been partnered in past Ryder Cups.

The most interesting names otherwise are British Open champion Todd Hamilton and Daly. They are 17th and 20th, respectively, on the current list, which has been compiled based on performance since the 2002 Ryder Cup.

Hamilton has won twice this year as a 38-year-old PGA Tour rookie. Unlike other players, his points total has been compiled over less than one full year and, thus, is impressive.

"I feel that although what I've done to earn points has only been in the last seven or eight months, I'm playing well and could contribute to the team," Hamilton said. "It would be great to be on the team. I won't be upset if it doesn't happen, but hopefully I'll be able to play in Ryder Cup some time. It would be a great honor."

Daly, of course, would be a huge fan favorite. Not that the Ryder Cup needs much more electricity outside the ropes, but a usually undermanned European team seems to bring more emotion to the matches, and Daly might counter that energy.

His win earlier this year at the Buick Invitational was his first since 1995, when he won his second career major championship at the British Open. He has five top-10 finishes and very few missed cuts. It is the most consistency Daly has shown at any time in a career checkered by personal problems.

Sutton knows Daly averages 305 yards per drive and doesn't seem to feel that matters. But he also knows he is No. 3 in putting average and among the tour's top 10 is sand saves. Daly is No. 1 in the all-around ranking that averages all the various tour stats.

Of course, he could play his way onto the team by winning here at Whistling Straits and picking up the 300 Ryder Cup points that go with a PGA victory.

Otherwise, it's up to Sutton.

"Definitely, the Ryder Cup is on my mind," said Daly, who finished second less than two weeks ago at the Buick Open in Michigan. "I would love to be part of that team. I feel I could help the team the way I'm playing right now, as solidly as I'm hitting it. And I've got a little bit of confidence. I think that's what the captain would want."

Indeed, Sutton wants players who are confident, who have been playing well of late - which might be Maggert's undoing - and who finish strong.

On Monday, he'll let us know if Daly might be one who fits the bill.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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