TOM Watson has played his first hand in the build-up to next year’s Ryder Cup in Scotland by reducing his number of wild cards from four to three for the match at Gleneagles.
Tasked with trying to record a first United States victory on European soil since he was last in charge, at The Belfry in 1993, Watson has changed a selection process that had been in place for the three most recent biennial jousts.
It worked for Paul Azinger at Valhalla in 2008 but, in the wake of subsequent defeats under Corey Pavin and Davis Love III at Celtic Manor and Medinah respectively, the five-time Open champion has decided to free up an extra spot to reward players on form.
“There’s not a lot of method in my madness but I think the players ought to have another shot of getting on the team by merit,” said Watson in an interview shown on rydercup.com. “I will use all possible resources in choosing these three captain’s choices to complete the best possible team in order to win the cup back for the United States.”
Love came in for criticism over his wild card picks after the Americans lost last year’s match in Chicago following a record-equalling final-day fightback by a European side captained by Jose Maria Olazabal.
Opting for experience, Love plumped for Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker ahead of the likes of Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler and, after talking to recent US captains, Watson has decided to reduce the headache he’ll face when it comes to his selections.
“I ran it by three or four recent captains, we had long conversations about it and all of them said it was a good decision,” he added.
“I talked with Paul [Azinger] and he was behind it 100 per cent. He had some good thoughts about how he comprised the team and what he did with the team to get them some ownership in the process.”
It was claimed by one TV golf analyst yesterday that the change may have been made to make it easier for Watson due to the fact the 63-year-old – he’ll be the oldest Ryder Cup captain in the event’s history – won’t be as familiar with the players as his opposite number, Irishman Paul McGinley.
In a recent interview with The Scotsman, however, Watson revealed he’d not only been closely following PGA Tour events since his appointment but also studying player profiles in a bid to learn as much as he possibly can about his potential team members.
Reiterating that point yesterday, he said: “I have already started the process of really trying to get to know who is out on the PGA Tour. I have watched a lot of golf and I know who Russell Henley is, Kevin Streelman, some of the youngsters you haven’t heard of.
“Tiger [Woods] and Phil [Mickelson] both won already this year and there’s always Steve Stricker. I know these players to a certain degree but I’m going to get much more familiar with them over the next 18 months.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the team is comprised, whether there will be three or four young players who have never made the team, and then you have the old stalwarts like Phil and Tiger who have to step up to the plate as well and lead that team.”
McGinley, who admits that he’s scrutinising his opposite number’s every word in the countdown to the event next September, has stated that he is likely to “tweak” the current European selection process – it uses two wild cards in addition to ten qualifiers – rather than make a radical change.
Nick Faldo had two wild cards when he lost the Valhalla tussle, Colin Montgomerie opted for three when he won in Wales in 2010 while Olazabal changed it back to just two – Ian Poulter and Nicolas Colsaerts – last year.