Azinger pays tribute to Europe
Ryder Cup captain in reflective mood as Valhalla survives the force of Hurricaine Ike.
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2008 12:39 GMT

Azinger is hoping the Valhalla crowd will be getting behind his team [GALLO/GETTY]
As Ryder Cup European captain Nick Faldo and seven of his players arrived on a charter flight from London, much of Louisville was without power as the host city tried to recover from a spinoff storm generated by Hurricane Ike that brought 60 mph wind at the weekend.

Valhalla Golf Club ground staff have been working feverishly to clean up the venue for this week's Ryder Cup after the remnants of Hurricane Ike battered much of Kentucky.

Winds gusting up to 90 kph blew a television tower on to the 12th green, several trees were uprooted on the par-71 layout and there was limited damage to some of the hospitality tents.

"The clean-up operation is going well and we are confident that, when spectators arrive for the first full practice round, Valhalla will be ready," tournament director Kerry Haigh said.

Looking forward

Faldo and US captain Paul Azinger held their first news conference in the Kentucky Exhibition Center, where generators were required for television lighting.

Europe is on its longest winning streak since this competition began in 1927, having won the last three.

Its dominance stretches even further, capturing the cup eight of the last 11 times dating to 1983.

For the first time, all 12 of Europe's players are among the top 50 in the world ranking.

European form

"The Europeans have brought an incredible team over here and we have a great opportunity to change it," Azinger

"We have everything to gain in this situation.

"Not a lot of people expect us to pull this off, minus Tiger Woods.

"Everybody feels pressure but hopefully they (my players) will be free wheeling out there. That's my hope."

Tiger Woods had season-ending knee surgery after winning the US Open in June.

No Tiger

European captain Nick Faldo felt the absence of the injured Woods could spark the Americans in their bid to win the trophy for the first time since 1999.

"The American team might want to show the rest of the golfing world, the rest of America and maybe Tiger, that they can play and they can perform better and they can win without him," the English former world number one said.

"On my side, I reckon this is the one (Ryder Cup) that Tiger was going to play a blinder and win every match.

"I think they have lost out on a few points."

Pressure’s on

Even so, pressure resides with both teams in what has become high-charged matches, with or without electricity.

Without Woods, the United States does not have a current major champion on
its team for the first time.

That honor belongs to Europe, which is led by Padraig Harrington, who won the last two majors and has won three since the last Ryder Cup.

Valhalla is familiar ground for both teams, having hosted the 1996 and 2000 US PGA Championships.

Gone are the days when Europe faced a distinctive disadvantage on US soil because so many players now compete around the world.

Hopefully Valhalla will have a few chairs left for the crowd after Hurricaine Ike [GALLO/GETTY]
Crowd Support

Both captains agreed the partisan crowd at Valhalla Golf Club could be a pivotal factor when the 37th Ryder Cup starts on Friday with the opening foursomes matches.

"The most obvious thing is the crowd support will be a bigger percentage, 25 percent Europeans here to 75 percent American fans," Faldo said.

Azinger has two Kentucky natives, Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, in his 12-man team and is banking on them to trigger huge roars.

"I might put them out first day, first match, to get everybody going," he said with a smile. "We'll see.

"The message to the crowd is: 'Be enthusiastic, raucous, crazy if you like but keep it all within the realm of good sportsmanship'.

"The local fans are already motivated. If I could hand pick any place in the country, this would probably be the spot."

Captaincy challenges

Faldo and Azinger have played in 15 Ryder Cups between them but they each experienced very different feelings in the build-up to their first as captain.

"I was more nervous as a player coming in trying to figure out the golf course and who I would be playing with, stuff like that," said Azinger, who has competed in four Ryder Cups.

"As a captain, I feel like I've got the lion's share of my work behind me.

"I don't feel a lot of stress or pressure."

Faldo played in the last of 11 Ryder Cups in 1997.

"As a captain, your golf clubs are in your mind," he said.

"There's a lot of thinking. You've got to prepare yourselves for team meetings and all sorts of strategy.

"The players here, they have a very simple goal. They are itching to get out on the golf course and get out and play."

The first practice session starts today

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