TED Bishop, the PGA of America president, is confident Tom Watson can overcome a “demoralising” set of circumstances to lead the United States to victory in next month’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
The problems are mounting for Watson ahead of the event, with world No 6 Matt Kuchar becoming a fresh concern after he withdrew from the US PGA Championship minutes before he was due to tee off in the first round at Valhalla with “back spasms”.
Dustin Johnson, who picked up three points out of three at Medinah two years ago, has already been ruled out of the match in Perthshire after taking a break from the game as he deals with “personal issues”. And, before the Kuchar problem arose, Watson was already fretting over Tiger Woods and Jason Dufner who are battling respective back and neck injuries with the biennial contest now just six weeks away. Dufner’s defence of his USPGA title lasted just ten holes at Valhalla yesterday before he withdrew while eight over. “Given all the circumstances surrounding our team right now, if there was ever a year when you needed a leader like Tom Watson as captain to make some tough decisions, this is it,” admitted Bishop, who was behind the bold appointment of the five-times Open champion.
“There is nobody better to steer the ship right now than Tom. It has been a little bit demoralising the last couple of months when you’ve looked at some of the injury problems our team has had, then you lose Dustin Johnson. Indeed, it would be easy to look at the form the Europeans are in right now compared to the problems we are facing and think, ‘gee, I am glad the Ryder Cup isn’t starting tomorrow’. But the thing I like about Tom is that, no matter the circumstances, he has always been upbeat. He’s been really positive in the whole process and that’s good.”
Bishop said he had partly taken exception to a comment made by Woods earlier in the week following Watson’s decision to appoint Steve Stricker as his third vice-captain for the clash in Perthshire.
“Every step of the way in the 20 months that I’ve been dealing with Tom he has exceeded my expectations in every way and the one thing that I’ve been really impressed with is the effort he’s gone to in order to get to know the players,” he added. “I don’t think the age factor is an issue at all. I think the thing Tom has that offsets the age is the respect the players have for him due to the fact his record speaks for itself and he’s still out there playing successfully.
“If there was one comment yesterday that I didn’t necessarily agree with, it came from Tiger Woods. He was giving Tom accolades for picking Steve Stricker and said it was good that the players had a peer in Stricker as a vice captain. I agree about that part of it but then he went on to talk about Tom, Andy [North] and Ray [Floyd] being older guys and not knowing the guys out there. I guess I agree with part of that because you can’t have a relationship with them when you aren’t out there with them week in, week out.
“But, from the players I’ve talked to who are going to be part of this Ryder Cup team, I think they all feel that Tom is going out of his way to build relationships.”
On Woods, Bishop said he’d prefer to see the 14-times major winner on the US team at Gleneagles but is concerned about the back spasm that led to his withdrawal during the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last weekend. “I don’t think there is any question that you would prefer to have Tiger Woods on the team,” said Bishop. “The thing that is really difficult right now is his injury situation and what happened last week kind of scares you for the Ryder Cup.
“He could go there on good form but he could get a bad lie and be faced with hitting an awkward shot and, all of a sudden, he’s injured. The last thing you need is a player going down in the middle of the competition. I’d say this and I know that a lot of people are saying, ‘how can you pick Tiger Woods based on his performance all year and his health issues’. But if you had an opportunity to put Tiger on that team if he’s healthy I will take my chances every time. If I’m going to win or lose, I’m going to do it with a guy like Tiger Woods on my team.”