Odd pairings assured on Tiger-free team

FORT WORTH, Texas — Close your eyes, think ahead and listen to the starter at the 2008 Ryder Cup:

”Now on the tee for the United States, Rocco Mediate and Woody Austin“

What just happened? The oldest pairing of Ryder Cup rookies in U.S. history received the go-ahead to begin their opening match at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. Combined age: 89.

Don't like that scenario? Try this one:

”Now on the tee for the United States, Anthony Kim and Sean O'Hair“

There, now. We've rolled back the clock by pairing the youngest potential U.S. competitors for the matches against the Europeans. This all-rookie tandem has a combined age of 49.

To put that in perspective, Kentuckian Kenny Perry — one of the few locks on this U.S. squad — will be 48 when he shoulders the burden as one of the pillars of a Tiger-free U.S. team that will seek its first victory in this competition since 1999.

Feel free to honk, golf fans, if you began the year expecting the United States to end Europe's Ryder Cup dominance by leaning on players like Austin, Mediate, Kim, O'Hair and Perry while Woods recuperates from season-ending knee surgery. Funny, but it's awfully quiet out there. And, for the record, I'm not honking, either.

No one could have envisioned the twists and turns of 2008 that will make the next two weeks memorable and unpredictable for Ryder Cup contenders. And for golf fans curious about the 12-man roster that will represent the United States in Kentucky.

Unlike past years, captain Paul Azinger gets four at-large picks, rather than two, to complete his squad. Better yet, he'll have until Sept. 2 to make them, rather than choosing the day after the PGA Championship.

So the heat will continue for Ryder Cup bubble riders until 17 days before the start of matches, allowing Azinger a better feel for who's hot and who's not when he completes his squad.

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