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U.S. golfers get inspiration from 'The Greatest'

LOUISVILLE — Golf and boxing are at opposite ends of the sports spectrum in terms of physical demands, but the United States' Ryder Cup team hopes to draw inspiration from "The Greatest" fighter: Louisville native Muhammad Ali.

That's why American captain Paul Azinger took his players on a tour of the Muhammad Ali Center Monday night.

Ali was supposed to be there, but his travel plans from Michigan didn't work out. He hopes to get to back to his hometown sometime this week.

The U.S. team watched a video about Ali's life when they arrived at the museum.

"I've idolized Muhammad Ali all my life," Azinger said. "It's an inspiration. (The film) is about what-if dreams. It reaches beyond sports and athletics. The players loved it.

"I just thought it was a great place to start the week."

Justin Leonard agreed:

"It was pretty inspirational to get a sense of what (Ali) went through in his life and all the things he did outside of the sports world."

Ryder Cup rookie Hunter Mahan, 26, was born the year after Ali retired from the ring, but after watching the video on Ali, Mahan called him amazing.

"It's pretty obvious how great he was physically and mentally ... and how focused he was on accomplishing a goal and just went out there and did it."

The European team also plans to tour the Ali Center this week.

Leading the charge?

J.B. Holmes stood on the 13th tee at Valhalla, listened to the urging from the crowd and pulled out the driver.

One big swing and 338 yards later, the ball settled 15 feet from the cup.

No wonder Kenny Perry wants to play with him.

The two Kentuckians and U.S. Ryder Cup teammates put on a show in front of the home fans during practice on Tuesday, providing a glimpse of what their gallery would look like if they were to be paired together when the Cup starts on Friday.

The politicking from Perry has already begun.

"I thought it would be special for two Kentuckians to lead the charge out here to try to win the Cup back," Perry said. "I guess it could backfire if we don't play well and they kick us pretty bad. It could also have a reverse role, too. I just think, with the energy and the excitement, I just think it's going to put a lot of pressure on the Europeans."

U.S. captain Paul Azinger said he's thought about sending Perry and Holmes out first to "get this crowd rocking," and Perry said he'd prefer them playing in the alternate-shot format, where Holmes' length could set up Perry's precision.

"He's such a dominant force," Perry said of Holmes. "The whole world loves power, if it's who can throw the baseball the fastest or who can hit the ball the farthest. If he can get guys like that hot and get them into the game, they're going to be tough to beat."

Holmes, a Ryder Cup rookie, said he's hoping to play with Perry but will defer to Azinger.

"He's the captain, and he's going to do what he thinks is right, and if that's sending us off first on Friday, that's great with me," Holmes said. "I'd love to go out there and start it off with a bang. That would be awesome."

Southern speaking

Jim Furyk, who is from Pennsylvania, said he "brushed up" on his language before playing a practice round Tuesday with Kentuckians J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry, and Floridian Boo Weekley.

"I've got a couple good friends from the South, so I called them and tried to get some good terms I could use."

Furyk said kiddingly that it was tough at times to understand what Holmes, Perry and Weekley were saying.

"If they get talking a little quick, it's kind of like being in a foreign country. You've got to lean in and really concentrate on what they're saying at times."

Mahan's foot in mouth

Hunter Mahan's presence at Valhalla might be a surprise to some people who thought he might have eliminated himself from Ryder Cup consideration when he made less-than-flattering comments about the PGA of America this summer.

In an interview in the August issue of Golf magazine, Mahan was asked about Europe's recent domination of the Ryder Cup.

Mahan said the sponsoring PGA of America "could care less about winning" and was more concerned with making money. He also bemoaned the fact that the players aren't paid for a week of work.

"You're just a slave that week," Mahan said. "At some point the players might say, 'You know what — we're not doing this anymore, because this is ridiculous."

U.S. captain Paul Azinger obviously wasn't influenced by Mahan's words because he made him one of his captain's picks. On Tuesday, Mahan was asked whether he thought he had blown his chance to make the team with his caustic comments.

"I didn't really know," he said. "I talked to Paul after that and talked to the PGA of America ... I think we had a good chat, and I think we cleared the air quite a bit.

"I think we've both moved on from that, and I'm just looking forward to playing golf now."

Moment of bonding

The Europeans gathered at the first tee for a team photo Tuesday morning, but it turned into more than that when Ryder Cup veterans Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood shared a few words with their teammates.

"It was great; it was a good moment," captain Nick Faldo said. "We really had a good chat ... and that was really productive. The team is really tight together."

Phil & Jim

Phil Mickelson has played in every Ryder Cup since 1995. The only player on this year's team he has been paired in a match with is Jim Furyk. They lost their only match to Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik in 1999.

The only partners Mickelson has won with are Corey Pavin, Jay Haas, Tom Lehman and David Toms.

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