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Published: Saturday, 9/19/2009

Horsing around: Azinger not putting local icons out front

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

LOUISVILLE Before we accuse Paul Azinger of not being willing or able to pull the trigger on the pairing that his Kentucky constituency craved, we must admit that he never said when.

The Kenny Perry-Old Kentucky Holmes pairing may well happen this afternoon or tomorrow, but Azinger went another route for the morning foursomes play that will open the Ryder Cup competition today at Valhalla Golf Club.

Perry will go off last with Jim Furyk, a couple of old hands with a love of alternate-shot play, and they will meet the European A Team of Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. J.B. Holmes, like Perry a Kentucky native and resident, will sit out morning play.

Azinger had all but promised and just about everyone had expected him to send the two local statesmen out first, let J.B. whack some of those 350-yard drives, let Kenny knock it tight and whip the crowd into a frenzy, and get the spectators engaged right from the get-go.

Maybe he sensed that Padraig Harrington, the winner of two straight major championships, would bat leadoff for the Euros and that the intense pressure of being first out of the gate on such a huge stage right in your backyard might cause things to backfire. Azinger never really explained it, other than to say he liked Perry and Furyk going out fourth.

I think Kenny and J.B. together is a fantastic idea, Azinger said. But my intention is to get [all] 12 players out the first day and I m going to stick to that.

So Holmes should see his first action in this afternoon s four-ball competition.

Maybe Azinger will pull the trigger then and send out the homeboys.

U.S. Ryder Cup team member Kenny Perry, who resides in Franklin, Ky., is inundated with items to be autographed at the  Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, site of the Ryder Cup tournament.
U.S. Ryder Cup team member Kenny Perry, who resides in Franklin, Ky., is inundated with items to be autographed at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, site of the Ryder Cup tournament.
DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP Enlarge

There s no doubt that Perry and Holmes, who were together in practice rounds all week, bring a fever pitch to the proceedings far above and beyond the normal patriotic zeal that envelopes this biennial event.

Wherever they have gone at Valhalla, it s been like a Louisville-Kentucky basketball game breaking out in the midst of the horses leaving the gate at Churchill Downs with a Muhammad Ali sighting mixed in. The ground has all but trembled.

I m going to feed off the energy of the gallery, said Perry, who lives in Franklin. We all are. I want to embrace the crowd. It has been awesome all week. It feels like the whole state of Kentucky has been out here this week, and we haven t even started.

I ve never signed so many autographs in my life.

I have never been able to imagine what Tiger Woods puts up with all the time, but for one week of my life I feel like him.

Perry has been here before on the cusp of a little slice of golf greatness at Valhalla and while some of us might figure it ended in heartbreak, Perry has a different take.

It was the 1996 PGA Championship, the first event of any stature held on the young course. Perry had the lead after finishing 72 holes, but he watched from the TV tower as Mark Brooks tied him with a birdie at No. 18. Brooks then won on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff as Perry was repeatedly tangled in the rough.

I was paired with [Greg] Norman during the last round and Norman just kind of stepped aside and let me have my day, Perry recalled. It was a magical feeling for me. The support was unbelievable. I guarantee, this is going to be a very pro-USA crowd.

This is another great opportunity for me. I ve told everybody that I ve put all my eggs in this basket. This weekend is what I ll be remembered for in my career in golf, period. I ve prepared, I ve done all my work, and I m ready to play. If it goes the way I think it can go, it will be the neatest week of my life. It ll beat any of my wins by a mile.

Perry, 48, won three times earlier this year and has returned to the very top of his game throughout this week s practice sessions, according to Azinger. But it has been Holmes and his prodigious length off the tee that brought the house down the last couple days, both on the course and at the practice range.

On Wednesday, he drove the 338-yard 13th hole and then went to the range and bounced tee shots off the stage being set up for yesterday s opening ceremonies, sending workmen scattering about 370 yards away.

He s just doing things that are superhuman, Azinger said after Holmes exhibition.

So, despite his being a rookie and a captain s pick, it is a bit curious that Holmes will sit out this morning at a course that he knows better than any player on either team.

The Americans have lost to the Europeans in five of the last six Ryder Cup meetings. Nick Faldo, the Euro captain, was almost cocky yesterday when he saw how his morning alternate-shot pairings lined up against Azinger s teams. I expected him to break into laughter at any moment. Instead, he swallowed a broad smile and merely said, I think you must agree; I ve got a very strong team.

At some point, Holmes will get a chance to answer that.

In Campbellsville, a little burg about 70 miles southeast of here nestled near Saloma and Casey Creek, Holmes taught himself the game and made the local high school s varsity golf team when he was in the third grade.

I got picked on for a little while, Holmes said. In fifth and sixth grade, when I started beating them, they stopped picking on me. The easiest way to get somebody to be quiet is to just beat them.

Yes, indeed. But he can t do it sitting out.



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