DULUTH, Ga. -- Having staged the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history, the United States will try to retain the trophy with the help of two captain's picks who know something about beating the odds.
Paul Azinger returns to the Ryder Cup for the first time in eight years, the last big event he played before discovering he had cancer in his left shoulder.
''I knew what I was missing all these years, and I'm glad I'm back,'' he said.
Scott Verplank, who has had diabetes since he was 9 and three elbow surgeries during the 1990s that forced him to go back to Q-school, also was picked Monday by Curtis Strange. Verplank was the first rookie who didn't earn his way onto the Ryder Cup team.
''Scott has a huge heart,'' Strange said. ''When you look at where he's come from -- injuries, fighting diabetes everyday ... only he knows where that's taken him from. But every day he has to wake up being a fighter, and you want that.''
The selections completed a U.S. team that will face Europe on Sept. 28-30 at The Belfry in England in what likely will be anything but a civil affair.
The Americans staged a stunning comeback two years ago at The Country Club, rallying from a four-point deficit on a final day marred by boorish behavior by the gallery and a controversial celebration on the 17th green.
This time, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Davis Love III highlight a team that also features David Toms, who played his way onto his first Ryder Cup by winning the PGA Championship Sunday.
Toms' victory bumped Tom Lehman out of the top 10, who automatically qualify for the team, and left Strange with some difficult decisions.
Lehman, undefeated in singles in his three Ryder Cup appearances, finished 11th in the standings. Instead, Strange found experience at No. 22 in Azinger.
For rookies, he skipped over Chris DiMarco at No. 13 -- whose two double bogeys Sunday in the PGA Championship kept him from making the team -- and took Verplank, a former U.S. Amateur champion with a steady game and a rock-solid demeanor.
''What I've been looking for is the two best players,'' Strange said. ''Two best players means who has the biggest heart, the most game, some length in their game to be able to possibly dominate a course.''
He also mentioned experience, but leaned more toward ''who can handle the atmosphere over there, which will be different than anything they've ever seen before.''
Europe, which hasn't lost on home soil since 1993, still has three tournaments before announcing its team Sept. 3.
''Paul Azinger was, I think, an obvious choice,'' European captain Sam Torrance said. ''He has a good record in the Ryder Cup and has played at The Belfry before, so he has experience on the course. I feel it is a very strong team, enhanced by two good picks.''
For Azinger, his comeback is complete.
He won the PGA Championship in a playoff over Greg Norman in 1993, and battled Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo at the Ryder Cup that fall. Two months later, he learned he had lymphoma in his left shoulder.
Three Ryder Cups passed by without Azinger to help lead the fight.
''In 1999, I just didn't see an end to the struggles as far as my golf game was concerned,'' he said. ''I never saw myself playing on a Ryder Cup team any time soon.''
Azinger, who won the Sony Open in Honolulu last year, said he never lobbied Strange to be a captain's pick, knowing how many other players were ahead of him. He and Strange watched the final few holes of the PGA Championship in the locker room at Atlanta Athletic Club, and Strange let him go to his hotel without giving him any ideas.
''I let him suffer a little,'' Strange said.
Before long, there was a pounding on Azinger's hotel room door. He opened it to find Strange there with a smile on his face.
''He just stuck his hand out and said, 'You're it,''' Azinger said.
Verplank closed with a 67 Sunday to earn some points, but only enough to move from 17th to 14th in the standings. When his plane landed in Oklahoma City, a message was waiting on his cell phone.
''I took it quietly, then I went inside ... and was excited,'' he said. ''Gave it a 'Yes!' in front of the mirror.''
That was the enjoyable part for Strange. The other side was calling Lehman to tell him he would not be a part of the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993.
Lehman missed the cut in his last three tournaments -- two of them majors. Since finishing second at the Sony Open in January, he has had only two top-10 finishes to earn points toward making the Ryder Cup team.
Shortly after returning home from the British Open, Lehman's wife, Melissa, delivered their child stillborn.
''They're going through a tough time,'' Strange said. ''It was a tough phone call to make. Bottom line, he just hasn't played as well as we know Tom Lehman can play.''
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