Nicklaus picking Team USA to win Ryder Cup

SELLERSBURG, Ind. — Jack Nicklaus isn't worried about Tiger Woods' absence hurting Team USA's chances of winning the Ryder Cup next month at Valhalla in Louisville.

Speaking Monday before a charity tournament hosted by Fuzzy Zoeller in southern Indiana, Nicklaus said he still thinks the U.S. can take back the Cup though he concedes the Americans are no longer heavy favorites now that Woods is out with a knee injury.

”I think we're on home soil, but I think the Europeans are pretty strong right now, stronger than I thought they were going to be,“ Nicklaus said. ”I still think the U.S. is going to win at Valhalla.“

Nicklaus would know. He spent the last two years revamping the course he designed, lengthening some holes, shortening others and restructuring the greens to put some bite back into course that hosted the 2000 PGA Championship.

”The only way you can really challenge the guys today is on the putting surface,“ Nicklaus said. ”They all hit the ball so far, that I think you've got to put a little spice out there on the putting surface. I don't think we have quite enough spice out there on the putting surface, but on some holes we do.“

The 18-time major winner and captain of the 1983 and 1987 U.S. Cup teams said his only advice to 2008 captain Paul Azinger is to relax and let the players go out and play. He thinks the pressure of playing for your home country is more media perception than reality.

”It's an honor to play for your country, but to me you want to talk about pressure, pressure is playing in an individual event coming down the stretch,“ he said. ”Playing for your country is great, but there's 11 other guys out there.“

Maybe, but Team USA's roster won't include Woods for the first time since 1995. Though Woods' Ryder Cup record is so-so, Nicklaus expects the world No. 1's absence to be felt in the clubhouse.

”He played the role for me of being a leader and bringing guys together as a team, which he did quite well,“ said Nicklaus, who captained Woods on three Presidents Cup teams. ”That they will miss.“

Still, Nicklaus feels there's enough talent for the U.S. to reclaim the Cup. Nicklaus said he spent about 90 minutes on the phone with Azinger after the U.S. won last year's Presidents Cup and told Azinger to just let his players do their thing.

”I said "Paul, just let them play. They're all good players, they all know how to play the game,'“ Nicklaus said. ”They don't need any coaching. They don't need any of the other things. Just let them go play. They'll do just fine.“