x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

All the captain's men

William Johnson profiles the 12 men on the either side of the trans-atlantic rivalry called Ryder Cup.

Chief sports writer William Johnson profiles the 12 men on the either side of the trans-atlantic rivalry called Ryder Cup and led by the two captains, Nick Faldo for Europe and the American Paul Azinger:

Paul Azinger defied a life-threatening illness to become his country's 25th Ryder Cup captain so when it comes to fighting battles there are few men better equipped to end a sustained spell of European dominance in golf's biggest matchplay event. Azinger, 46, who featured in four American teams between 1989 and 2002, taking a decisive singles point from Jose Maria Olazabel to set up a 141/2-131/2 win in 1991, is determined to halt a European juggernaut that has swept to victory in five of the last six transatlantic confrontations. "I think, the greatest honour you can bestow on a professional golfer is to ask him to captain a Ryder Cup team, and I'm awestruck by it," he said on learning of the finest moment of a prolonged career which comes 15 years after the nadir of a cancer diagnosis. Roger Warren, the PGA of America President, said of Azinger: "Paul is one of the game's biggest supporters of the Ryder Cup and his performances have earned him the respect of his peers as well as many around the world. "His passion for the game, his courage to battle back from debilitating disease and his leadership in past Ryder Cups make him the ideal man to guide the American team at Valhalla," The United States captain needs no introduction to his European counterpart Nick Faldo because they are co-commentators for the ABC Sports network. They also met in a singles match in 1993 which was halved. Azinger extends a list of illustrious names who have captained his country in an event which began with a match against Great Britain and Ireland in 1927 with Walter Hagan in command. Since then legendary figures like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino have worn the captain's jacket.

Considered the most surprising of captain Azinger's four wild card selections but his enormous length off the tee will be a big asset. Regarded on tour as one of the best players never to win a major.

The laid-back approach of a man who was named rookie of the year in his first season and player of the year in his second (1996-7) will be invaluable in a nervous locker room containing six newcomers.

A Ryder Cup rookie despite exploding on to the world stage as the shock 2003 British Open champion. Has not lived up to that celebrity status, despite a tie for second place in this year's PGA championship

One of the steadiest players in the world, despite the ugliness of his swing, he enjoyed the highlight of a productive career five years ago when he won the US Open with a record-equalling total.

Sure to thrill his local crowds with his 300-plus yard drives which helped earned him a captain's pick and the nickname of "Bomber". Won this year's FBR Open and knows Valhalla like the back of his hand.

Swaggering and brash, but one of the most exciting newcomers to the home team, having won two tournaments in this his second season as a professional after winning All-America honours three times as an amateur.

The 1997 British Open champion's stunning 45-foot putt at Brookline nine years ago for a crucial half point proved decisive in the Americans' last victory over Europe. Has not won a match, though, in eight attempts

The possible weak link in the home team having missed the cut in two of his last six events and finished in the top 10 in only four of 24 tournaments this year. Still did enough to get Azinger's vote.

On paper the top player on view at Valhalla but his record in six previous matches does not reflect that high ranking. The left-hander has amassed 34 tour victories since turning professional 16 years ago.

Enjoying what is comfortably the most successful of 22 seasons on the tour, hitting a purple patch which brought three wins in five starts. He will be a big crowd favourite performing in his home state.

Rewarded with a wild card for his outstanding revival over the last couple of seasons which earned him two successive "comeback player of the year" awards. Seventh in the British Open

His amusing southern drawl be a welcome addition to the tense Cup atmosphere and his famed "awe-shucks" outbursts will entertain the galleries as well as his impressive hitting which brought a first tour win last year.

Nick Faldo will not go down as the most popular captain in European Ryder Cup history but he is the most decorated and when it comes to going into a locker room and putting medals on the table in advance of a team talk, the surly Englishman has an abundance of firepower. Three British Open Championship gold medals and three US Masters green jackets mean that he is well qualified to do things his way, even if the manner in which he does things upsets a fair number of those he comes across. Faldo, 51, who established a reputation for being able to handle the most pressurised of situations, went close to completing a clean sweep of his sport's four major honours when he finished runner-up in the 1988 US Open and the 1992 US PGA. He can also point to an unrivalled record in Ryder Cups. In 1977 he made his debut appearance for Europe and went on to represent them in 11 matches to become the most successful player ever -- from either team. He was victorious in 23 rubbers and halved another four to set an aggregate of 25 points which has stood since he stopped playing on the main tour with 39 tournament wins to his credit. All the success he enjoyed on the course did little to enhance his stnding among his peers -- and the golf media -- and even Paul Azinger, Faldo's opposite number at Valhalla, lost his composure as they worked together in their television commentary roles and referred to his colleague as a p****. Bernard Gallagher, a successful forerunner of Faldo as Ryder Cup captain, took the unusual step of criticising the captain's two wild card selections as Faldo went against public opinion and refused to call-up the reliable Darren Clarke, preferring to go for the flamboyance of Ian Poulter.

Has hit a decent vein of form at just the right time in what, by his high standards, has been a disappointing year. His explosive hitting and impressive displays in previous Ryder Cups earned him a captain's pick.

Despite is tender years is appearing in his fifth Ryder Cup and has so far secured 15 points from a possible 20. The charismatic Spaniard defends an immaculate record in foursomes, having won eight out of eight.

Got off to a flying start in the race for qualifying points by winning last year's Mercedes Benz Championship -- his second tour win -- and held on to his top 10 position to earn his Ryder Cup debut.

Goes into his fifth battle as Europe's new team leader after his tremendous rise in stature. Successive British Open triumphs and a third major in this year's US PGA make the genial Irishman the player the Americans fear most.

Two tour victories this year, raising his career total to 15, made propeled him into the team fort the third time. Seven top-10 finishes this season are an indication of consistency and he is also unflappable under pressure.

A model of consistency as he booked his second Cup place. The only European player to finish in the top 20 of all four of this year's majors and has enjoyed nine top-ten finishes including six in a row.

Victory in the Scottish Open -- his second triumph this year -- propelled this emerging talent towards his debut appearance. He showed his potential by finishing sixth in the 2004 order of merit in his third year as a pro.

Considered fortunate to have been awarded the second of captain Nick Faldo's wild cards but would probably have earned automatic selection had he appeared in more European events. The match will be more colourful now that he has made it.

It has taken him 10 years to secure a Ryder Cup place after announcing his presence on the world stage with a stunning performance to be leading amateur at the British Open. Topped last year's Order of Merit.

The Dubai-based former Desert Classic winner had the honour on his debut appearance two years ago of holing the clinching putt in a landslide victory at the K Club. He showed his matchplay prowess by winning the 2007 Accenture.

Seems to save his best form for Ryder Cups and has amassed a tremendous haul of 151/2 points since making his debut in 1977. He has not lost a rubber since 2002 when Scott Verplank beat him in the singles.

One of four rookies in the European line-up and was unsure of his place until the final qualifying event. Four runners-up positions, the most agonising being a play-off defeat by Juan Angel Jimenez at Wentworth brought valuable points. wjohnson@thenational.ae