Sport Golf

Friday 20 April 2018

Pavin has 'wild' punt on Fowler

Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin names his four captains picks to complete the 12-member US team at the New York Stock Exchange yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin names his four captains picks to complete the 12-member US team at the New York Stock Exchange yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Karl MacGinty

COREY PAVIN gave his first three captain's picks to Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods and then, acting purely on a hunch, tossed a real Ryder Cup wild card to Rickie Fowler.

For sure, the US skipper wasn't spoiled for choice, but Pavin's decision to gamble on the raw talent of 21-year-old PGA Tour rookie Fowler at Celtic Manor is fascinating.

Behind a boundless passion for his country's cause at the Ryder Cup, Pavin is a shrewd strategist, not the sort one would expect to act on a whim.

Yet, clearly, he's made an exception in Fowler's case -- and, in fairness, the kid is an exceptional player.

Though Pavin's picks are nowhere near as controversial as those of European captain Colin Montgomerie, the selection of Fowler is still a courageous move and represents a splendid leap of faith.

In choosing Fowler ahead of Valhalla heroes JB Holmes and Anthony Kim (admittedly struggling for form after this year's operation on his thumb) or doughty Ryder Cup veteran Justin Leonard, Pavin has enriched the air of adventure surrounding the upcoming event at Celtic Manor.

Just compare the youngster's professional pedigree with that of Woods. While Tiger's 71 PGA Tour victories include 14 Major titles, Fowler has yet to win in less than 12 months as a professional.

With a handful of impressive top-10 finishes in the US this season, the Californian is viewed as Rory McIlroy's leading rival for the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award in 2010.

And even though Fowler's form dipped in the wake of his impressive runner-up finish behind Justin Rose at The Memorial in June, the respect he commands on Tour was heavily underscored at the PGA Championship when Phil Mickelson strongly recommended him for a Ryder Cup pick.

Explaining why he was happy to give Fowler the nod yesterday, Pavin said: "There's a lot of people in the mix, but I've said it before and it's absolutely true -- it just came down to feelings.

"I have a gut feeling about Rickie. He has a good Walker Cup record, he's 7&1," added Pavin, referring to the star role Fowler played in the American amateur team's victories over Great Britain and Ireland -- featuring McIlroy -- at Royal Co Down in 2007 and Merion last year.


The Walker and Ryder Cups are vastly different in scale, yet Pavin has few doubts about Fowler's ability to cope at Celtic Manor.

"Rickie is a very cool customer and I have no doubt that he'll be well able to handle the pressure," added the captain.

"We have a good mix of youth and experience in the team. I'm very pleased with the flexibility in my side."

An obvious partner for Fowler would be close buddy on Tour, Bubba Watson, while the pairing of fellow rookie Dustin Johnson with his long-time mentor Mickelson certainly has a nice ring to it.

Last year's British Open winner Cink -- a veteran of the past four Ryder Cups and a captain's pick for three of them -- is a rock-solid choice by Pavin, as is 2007 US Masters champ Zach Johnson, who brings good recent form, including a victory at Colonial this summer, to his second Ryder Cup.

One of the aces in Pavin's pack is likely to be the partnership of Woods and Steve Stricker, which looked invincible in last year's President's Cup.

Now that his game is at last coming together, Tiger's selection for this Ryder Cup was inevitable.

Woods, needing to be picked for the first time after failing to win a tournament since his sex scandal erupted last November, has vowed to do all he can to keep the trophy in American hands, after they won two years ago in Valhalla while he was out recovering from knee surgery.

"It's great to be part of this team," said Woods, who's just gone six events without a top-10 finish for the first time in his career, but still has made significant strides over the past month under his new Canadian swing coach Sean Foley.

"I'm honoured to be selected. I've been to Wales previously and I'm looking forward to going back, having a great time with the team and hopefully bringing the cup back."

Woods played on the losing US team at the 1995 Walker Cup in Royal Porthcawl, where he had two wins and two defeats -- one of them in foursomes to Irish duo Padraig Harrington and Jody Fanagan.

European vice-captain Paul McGinley said: "So Corey Pavin's had a punt with inexperience and gone for Rickie Fowler, who is a really good young player. He has made four good picks and it's a solid American team. It's going to be a great Ryder Cup."

Irish Independent

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