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Playing on Paper

The United States will enter the 34th Ryder Cup at The Belfry as the prohibitive favorite.

On paper, they are the superior team. They have the top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking on their team. They have three of the four 2001 major champions on their team. They have seven of the top ten 2001 PGA Tour money earners on their team.

Basically, the U.S. is loaded.

But are they playing better golf heading to Birmingham, England?

There are two weeks remaining until the matches commence. The WGC American Express Championship and the Tampa Bay Classic will be contested this week; while the SEI Pennsylvania Classic and the Trophee Lancome (European Tour) will be played the following week.

That leaves just a couple of more competitive chances for any of the 24 participants to hone their games.

Here's how the players are playing with two weeks to go.

United States

Tiger Woods €" Won the WGC-NEC Invitational two weeks ago, but unexpectedly faltered after sharing the first round lead in the Bell Canadian Open. Rating €" (A-)

Phil Mickelson €" Has three top-10 finishes in his last three starts, including a runner-up at the PGA Championship. Still, for a man who measures himself by titles, no victories since the Canon Greater Hartford Open to start July. Rating €" (B+)

David Duval €" Won the British Open in July, but slipped in the final round of the PGA Championship. Also failed to finish in the top-20 at The International and the NEC Invitational. Rating €" (B)

Mark Calcavecchia €" Tied for fourth at the PGA Championship, his only top-10 finish since the Masters Tournament in April. Rating €" (C-)

David Toms €" Secured a spot on the team with his PGA Championship victory. Played respectably the following week at the NEC, tying for 13th. Rating €" (A-)

Davis Love III €" Torrid start cooled due to back injury. Tied for fifth at the NEC, but failed to crack the top 20 in each of the last two majors. Rating €" (B-)

Scott Hoch €" Won the Advil Western Open in July. Tied for 7th in both the PGA Championship and the Taiwan Open (Sept. 2). Rating €" (B+)

Jim Furyk €" Went seven straight starts without a top-10, but has since earned a pair of runner-up finishes (Buick Classic, NEC) and a tie for seventh at the PGA Championship. Rating €" (B+)

Hal Sutton €" Discovered sleep disorder was the result of a heart condition. Hasn't earned a top-10 finish since winning the Shell Houston Open in April. Rating €" (D+)

Stewart Cink €" Collected back-to-back third-place finishes at the U.S. Open and Buick Classic, yet hasn't finished inside the top 10 in his last six starts. Rating €" (C)

Scott Verplank €" Captain's choice solidified selection with victory in Bell Canadian Open. Also tied for seventh at the PGA Championship. Rating €" (A)

Paul Azinger €" Was in contention at the NEC before shooting final-round 72; tied for fifth to earn first top-10 in over two months. Rating €" (C+)

European

Darren Clarke €" Won the Smurfit European Open in July and finished third in both the British Open and NEC Invitational. Lone blemish €" a missed cut at the PGA Championship. Rating €" (A-)

Padraig Harrington €" Also missed the cut at the PGA, but has three runner-up finishes and five top-10s in the last two months. Rating €" (A-)

Thomas Bjorn €" Collected a pair of top-20s at theVolvo Scandinavian Masters and the BMW International, but finished outside the top-30 in the British Open, PGA Championship and NEC Invitational. Was forced to withdraw from last week's European Masters due to a shoulder injury. Will skip this week's AmEx event, but is expected to play the Trophee Lancome. Rating (C+)

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