FORMER RYDER CUP player Andrew Coltart believes US captain Tom Watson will be relieved that Tiger Woods has ruled himself out of next month’s contest at Gleneagles.
Woods failed to qualify for the team automatically and yesterday informed the PGA of America and Watson that, after playing just 11 full tournament rounds on his return to action following back surgery, he did not wish to be considered for one of the three wild card places.
“I don’t think necessarily it’s going to be a bad thing for the US team,” said Coltart, who lost to Woods in the singles at Brookline in 1999, the only time the 14-time major winner has been on a winning team.
“Certainly it’s a bit of a relief for Tom Watson because it was a huge decision that he was going to have to come up with. The decision has been made for him.
“It’s a big break I think for Tom Watson, gives himself a bit of space.
“There was no way Woods was going to play five matches – I think that he would have been lucky to play three with a bad back.
“Mentally I think he is also struggling. He can’t be happy with the golf swing, he is hitting the ball sideways.
“Tom Watson getting that extra pick if you like, the freedom to pick somebody else, I think it will possibly make that American team a little stronger.
“Collectively they are going to come together a bit like a wounded animal.
“They’ve got several players out…Dustin Johnson (who has taken a leave of absence), Jason Dufner has an injured neck, Matt Kuchar has a bad back, they’re not coming into this the way they would hope. They are definitely the underdogs.”
Kuchar qualified for the team but withdrew before the start of the US PGA Championship last week, while Dufner’s title defence at Valhalla lasted just ten holes and he dropped out of the automatic places as a result.
Asked if Watson could now opt to make Woods a vice-captain instead, Coltart added: “What we see between the lines is potentially that the American team has always struggled with a bunch of egos – they are all individuals. Europe is always great in coming together as a team, there are some great team players like (Sergio) Garcia and (Ian) Poulter, guys that are not afraid to put their arms around players.
“I’m not so sure you get that from Tiger. I don’t think using him as a vice-captain would be a great thing.”
Woods pulled out of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with back problems on the ninth hole of his final round, but insisted he was pain free at the US PGA Championship just three days later.
However, he re-injured himself before his second round and went on to miss the halfway cut for just the fourth time in 66 majors as a professional.
Woods underwent back surgery on 31 March and has now admitted he will not be fit to participate at Gleneagles.
“While I greatly appreciate Tom thinking about me for a possible captain’s pick, I must take myself out of consideration,” Woods said in a statement on www.pga.com.
“I’ve been told by my doctors and trainer that my back muscles need to be rehabilitated and healed.
“They’ve advised me not to play or practise now.
“I’m extremely disappointed that I won’t be ready for the competition.
“The US team and the Ryder Cup mean too much to me not to be able to give it my best.
“I’ll be cheering for the US team.
“I think we have an outstanding squad going into the matches.”
Watson knows Woods will not be an option when he makes his three picks on 2 September, but has wished the player a speedy recovery.
“My primary wish is for Tiger to be healthy and competitive, and I hope he’ll return to the game very soon,” said Watson.
“Of course, I’m disappointed that Tiger Woods has asked not to be considered for the US Ryder Cup team, and that his health is not where he would like it to be.
“However, I think we can all agree that we need Tiger Woods in this great sport, and he has taken the high road by informing me early on in the selection process.
“My focus will remain on identifying three players to join the US team and give us the best chance for success at Gleneagles.”
Woods would not have been a certainty for a pick even if he had been fit with Watson also admitting that form would have to play a major part in any decision.
Barring the USA win at Valhalla in 2008 when Woods was recovering from knee surgery as the Americans comfortably defeated Nick Faldo’s misfiring European side 16½-11½, he had played in every Ryder Cup since 1997, winning at Brookline in 1999, and had a record of 13 wins, 17 losses and three halves.
Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson are the nine automatic qualifiers for a place on the 12-man American team.
Keegan Bradley looks to be the most likely candidate for a wild card given his three wins from three matches with Mickelson at Medinah back in 2012, but Watson has serious injury concerns over both Kuchar and the prospective pick Dufner.
Kuchar, who is renowned as one of the most consistent players on the PGA tour, withdrew before the start at Valhalla last week with back spasms.