TOM Watson, the United States captain, has changed his tune over Tiger Woods as the world No 1 battles to be fit for the season’s remaining majors and September’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
In the immediate aftermath of Woods having the back surgery that forced him to miss The Masters for the first time since 1995 last week, Watson inferred that he’d pick him for the match in Perthshire if he was simply fit and healthy.
Now the five-times Open champion has insisted Woods, who is languishing in 45th in the US qualifying table and looking as though he’s have to rely on one of the captain’s three wild cards, will also have to be playing well.
“I’m not going to answer that,” replied Watson to being asked if he’d pick Woods even if he took longer than anticipated to recover from his surgery on a pinched nerve. “I hope Tiger just basically gets well and starts playing well again. If he gets well and is playing well, I’ll pick him. But one more tournament, I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”
Watson’s remarks followed doubt being cast on Woods being fit enough to return in time for the season’s second major, the US Open at Pinehurst in June, by Notah Begay, the 14-times major winner’s former Stanford team-mate and long-time friend.
“I’ve dealt with back injury and nerve damage,” said Begay. “It’s like having a constant toothache 24 hours a day. He’s just at the point where something needed to be done. It’s all going to matter on the rehab. And I think he needs to give it a minimum of 90 days, in my opinion. To make sure that scar tissue heals up appropriately and he doesn’t re-injure it.”
One player almost certain to be on the US team at Gleneagles is Jordan Spieth and Watson, speaking at a press conference ahead of a PGA Tour appearance in the RBC Heritage starting today at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, admitted the 20-year-old had rekindled memories of himself at the same age.
“I like the way Jordan plays the game. He’s got passion,” said Watson, who is in the same group as Spieth, joint second behind Bubba Watson at The Masters last weekend after leading by two shots at one stage in the final round, for the first two days in South Carolina.
“I also have to laugh, as sometimes he gets up there and he hits a bad shot, and he says ‘that’s real close’, about 40 yards off the line, that’s exactly what I would say, ‘that’s real close’, just muttering to himself.
“But I remember when I was a kid and playing the game. He makes me relive some of the memories that I had when I was his age. He’s done very well. He’s mature, as he talks to you and he has a good sense of who he is and I like that about him.”
Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, outside the automatic spots for the European team after missing the cut at Augusta, defends the title in a strong field that includes three Scots – a rare occurrence on the PGA Tour.
Stephen Gallacher, who tied for 34th on his Masters debut, has received an invitation and joins card holders Martin Laird and Russell Knox in the line-up.
The latter, who now trails 104th-ranked Laird by just four spots in the world standings after making his presence felt in the pre-Masters phase of the season, got married last weekend and admitted he was blissfully unaware of how the season’s opening major had been unfolding.
“It’s great being married and a long overdue as we have been together for a long time, so we’re both pleased to have a great day together last Saturday,” said the Jacksonville-based Invernesian.“I wasn’t nervous at all as Andrea had already said ‘yes’ so, as long as she turned up. . . but it was a great day.
“The wedding a great distraction from the Masters and good to get away, and something I needed, so in a way I was pleased not to be too involved. But it’s back to work this week and the great thing is that Andrea understands what I do for a living so I can’t wait to get a crack at this course, as I haven’t played here before.”
Not playing this time is Australian Jason Day, who has withdrawn after his left hand was put in a cast as he continues to be troubled by the thumb injury that hampered his preparation for the Masters.