By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - United States captain Corey Pavin named Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Rickie Fowler Tuesday as his four wildcard selections for the Ryder Cup against Europe next month in Wales.
Woods, Johnson, Cink and PGA Tour rookie Fowler join automatic choices Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jeff Overton and Matt Kuchar on the 12-man American team.
The selection of Woods had been widely expected, with the world number one having improved his form in recent weeks after struggling for much of this season while grappling with highly publicized personal issues off the course.
"It's great to be a part of this team," 14-times major winner Woods said via telephone after Pavin announced his four picks on the seventh floor of the New York Stock Exchange. "I am honored to be selected.
"A couple of months ago I was trying to make the team on points, but I didn't. The last two events I played, I played much better and here we are. I think my game is not that far away."
Woods, winless this season after 11 starts on the PGA Tour, will be making his sixth appearance in the biennial competition as the U.S. side tries to win for the first time on foreign soil in 17 years.
"Tiger is one of 12 players on the team, and is as important as any other player," said Pavin, who was flanked by his assistant captains Davis Love III, Tom Lehman and Paul Goydos for the news conference with the golden Ryder Cup perched on a wooden table in front of the dais.
"The objective here is to have 12 players that make up Team USA, having to go out there with one goal in mind, and that's try to win the Ryder Cup in Wales."
Asked whether he had any doubts that Woods would make the team, Pavin replied: "I didn't think about it very much. I was just waiting and watching.
"I was hoping that he would qualify on points. He didn't. And then I just waited to see how he was going to play."
The selections of 2009 British Open champion Cink, a veteran of the last four Ryder Cups, and 2007 Masters winner Johnson had also been widely expected.
"I'm thrilled and excited beyond belief," said Johnson, who will be making his second Ryder Cup appearance and is the only one of Pavin's picks to win a tournament his year. "Having your nation's flag on your sleeve makes it that much more special."
The choice of 21-year-old Tour rookie Fowler came as a surprise.
"He's deserving," Pavin said of the richly talented prospect who has been a PGA Tour runner-up twice this year. "It just came down to feelings. I have a gut feeling about Rickie. That's the way I went."
Fowler was delighted.
"It was hard to sleep last night but this is awesome to be selected," he said. "I have to thank Corey for giving me the opportunity to go over there, being a young player. It is a pretty special opportunity."
Californian Fowler, distinctive on the U.S. tour with his long hair and colorful clothing, said he thought he could contribute to the mix.
"I hope to bring a little bit of color to the team, some youth to the team," said Fowler, the third youngest player to compete for the U.S. in the competition behind Horton Smith in 1929 and Woods in 1997.
"Help get them pumped up a little bit and get guys fired up."
Holders the U.S. take on Colin Montgomerie's European team at the Celtic Manor resort from Oct 1-3.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes/Steve Ginsburg)