Sony Open

Tom Lehman switched back to the long putter last year for better feel.

Lehman wants in

America's Ryder Cup captain
is in the hunt and hopes to make the
U.S. team rather than just lead it

» Maruyama up; Wie out
» Round 2 scores

Tom Lehman is still getting comfortable with the role of Ryder Cup captain.

Named two months ago to the high-profile post, Lehman recently added Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts as his assistants for the event that will be held in Ireland in September 2006. All three are in Hawaii for this week's $4.8 million Sony Open in Hawaii, although Pavin missed the cut by a stroke.

The 45-year-old Lehman hasn't been involved with the Ryder Cup since 1999, when he and several other Americans raced across the 17th green at Brookline after teammate Justin Leonard holed a 45-foot putt to put the U.S. in a position to win.

Unfortunately for Lehman, he apparently stepped on the line of Jose Maria Olazabal, who still had a chance to save the overall match for Europe. It's a transgression Lehman will certainly be quizzed about over the next 20 months, but one he will face head-on.

"We had a nice meeting last week, my wife and I," Lehman said. "We went to West Palm Beach and met with PGA of America Ryder Cup officials and the staff and got a real, firm grasp on all of the things that are required.

"So, I think there's really a good way of spreading it out over the course of the two years where I can keep putting my best foot forward in terms of being both a captain and playing."

One of the goals for the veteran golfer is to make the American team as a player. And while that may be as lofty as a 58-degree wedge, Lehman has shown signs that the form he had 10 years ago is returning.

Thanks to a solid 68 yesterday during the second round that left him at 5-under 135 for the tournament, Lehman is back near the top of the leaderboard. He has come close to winning here at Waialae in the past, finishing second to Brad Faxon in 2002 and tied for sixth in 2001.

He also had chances to win three tournaments late last year where he either held or was tied for the lead entering the final round. He finished second to Andre Stolz at the Michelin Championship in Las Vegas, tied for fourth at the Chrysler Classic in Greensboro and tied for sixth at the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World.

"My play at the end of last year was both encouraging and frustrating," Lehman said. "It's hard to believe, three weeks in a row, every week seemed to get a little more difficult, not having won the week before. It would have been good to have won.

"You know, if I could have won Vegas, for example, it would have made, I think, the next two chances easier. Maybe even win a couple of them. But still, it's encouraging to be back in the lead again. It's encouraging to be playing smart golf again and to feeling like I belong out here."

There were two things that helped the 1996 British Open and Tour Championship winner. The first was his health. Lehman battled through nagging foot, ankle and leg injuries that kept him from swinging hard consistently through the course of a 72-hole event.

Last September when he started making his run, he actually was playing pain-free for the first time in years. Lehman also gave up on the short putter, opting for the longer stick that gave him better feel on the greens.

"I fought it and fought it and fought it," Lehman said. "And finally I said enough is enough and I went back to the long putter and I started making a few more putts. The longer putter, I feel like day in and day out, I can generally get that ball somewhere near my line pretty consistently."

Consistency eluded Lehman somewhat through the first 36 holes, but he's still within three shots of the lead held by Japanese star Shigeki Maruyama. If he finds his range over the weekend, there's no reason Lehman can't be there at the end.

"Yeah, for the places that I've hit it over the first two days, I feel pretty good about my score," Lehman said. "I haven't really hit it very well, but I have been chipping very nicely and making a few putts.

"So managing to stay out of the real bad places and put it in the places where you can recover from, and I have been able to do that. So I'm pretty pleased with my short game. I want to make the (Ryder Cup) team, so I think it will affect my play in a very positive way."

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