Azinger hopeful of ending European dominance at Ryder Cup

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Paul Azinger had pairings in his pocket and butterflies in his stomach. As the last of his American players headed to the 10th tee for the final practice session Thursday at the Ryder Cup, Azinger acknowledged some nerves for the first time all week at Valhalla. It was different from being a player. He felt more like a parent sending his child off to college. Azinger has done all he can to stop EuropeâÄôs recent dominance in the Ryder Cup. He overhauled the qualifying process to field the best team. He set the course up just like he wanted, with moderate rough that should yield lots of birdies. He tried to convince his players that the past âÄî Europe has won three straight and five of the last six âÄî means nothing. âÄúItâÄôs like drawing back a bow string,âÄù he said, motioning like an archer. âÄúYou pull it back for two years, and now youâÄôve got to let it fly. All you can do is hope youâÄôve got it pointed in the right direction.âÄù He turned to Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim to set the right course. Mickelson and Kim, who have been asking for a partnership over the last month, will be the opening foursomes match Friday morning against double major champion Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson. âÄúThe whole team is anxious to play,âÄù Mickelson said. âÄúAnthony and myself have been talking about this for some time. I love that we are able to get off in the first group and get out and hit the first shots because again, weâÄôve been wanting this day to come.âÄù Turns out Azinger was toying with the press about pairing Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes to fire up their home crowd in Kentucky. He put Perry in the final morning match with reliable Jim Furyk, but they face EuropeâÄôs most formidable pair in Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. Garcia is 8-0 in foursomes, while Westwood is unbeaten in his last 10 team matches. âÄúSergio and I have played well together in the past and taken in a few points for the European cause, so we will be looking to do the same again tomorrow,âÄù Westwood said. Justin Leonard, whose 45-foot putt at Brookline in 1999 gave the Americans their last victory, will play with Hunter Mahan against Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey, while Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell take on the English duo of Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. The final practice day included an inspirational visit by Muhammad Ali, who posed with both teams on opposite sides of the golf course. European captain Nick Faldo was so moved that his voice quivered and eyes glistened when talking about meeting the heavyweight champ. âÄúAn incredible moment,âÄù he said.