On the back of TV viewing figures in the United States for the final round of the Open Championship on Sunday being well down on last year, there is a feeling that PGA of America officials may try to influence Watson in some way over his three selections.
Neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson occupies an automatic spot at present, with the former set to hand the US captain a heck of a headache if he fails to qualify for the FedEx Cup, which looks a long shot heading into the upcoming WGC-Bridgestone Invitational then, after that, the USPGA Championship.
“You know the dilemma; I know the dilemma,” Watson told The Scotsman on the eve of the Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl. On the face of things, it appears a classic no-win situation. “Leaving him out and winning is fine; leaving him out and losing isn’t,” observed Montgomerie, the winning captain when the event was played 43 miles west of here at Celtic Manor in 2010.
Watson, though, doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. The call he will make will be in the best interests of the American team, not based on TV ratings or anything else. “No, it’s not a no-win,” he insisted. “The decision will be mine and mine alone and it’s hard not to pick Tiger.”
Montgomerie believes it would be a complete waste of breath if anyone, PGA of America president Ted Bishop or whoever, tried to pressurise Watson over the 14-times major winner.
“I think some captains might be [influenced], but not Tom Watson,” he said. “He is there to win. He has been selected to take the Ryder Cup back to America and he is going to pick the 12 players he thinks can achieve that. There will be no pressure on him to pick someone based on television audiences or whatever. No, no.”
Montgomerie, of course, came under fire from certain quarters when he picked Padraig Harrington and Edoardo Molinari ahead of Paul Casey four years ago. This, though, is on a completely different scale altogether.
“These next two weeks [the WGC event and USPGA] for Tiger are the most important for the next two years, I believe,” he added. “Can you leave out Tiger Woods? It seems unheard of that you could have a Ryder Cup before Tiger is 40 and he’s fit and he’s not playing. Incredible.
“But, if he’s not in the top 120 [in the FedEx Cup], wow, and he’s not playing competitive golf in the FedEx Cup series leading up to the Ryder Cup, you would find it difficult to justify his pick. We talk about players in the top 20 of having a chance of getting picked, an Ian Poulter-type scenario or Lee Westwood or Luke Donald.
“Personally, I hope Tiger is playing at the Ryder Cup. It would be a better event with him in it, no question. I don’t want this Ryder Cup to be about who’s not in it as opposed to who is. That would be a shame.”
While a question mark hangs over Woods for Gleneagles, Rory McIlroy had already secured his spot on the European team before winning the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool on Sunday.
Since becoming only the third player after Woods and Jack Nicklaus to win three majors by the age of 25, all sorts of predictions have been made about how many the Northern Irishman can go on to hoover up.
Adding his opinion, Watson said: “He’ll win more but how many more is dependent on a lot of things. It depends on marriage and children. It depends on him being injury-free. And, lastly and maybe most importantly, it depends on how much desire you have.”
With McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, the US Open winner, in their ranks, Watson, returning to Ryder Cup matters, described the European team as “very formidable”. But, in the next breath, the 64-year-old revealed that he would be using the last match in Chicago, where the Americans suffered an agonising defeat after taking a four-point lead into the final day, as the focal point of his primary team talk.
“Our team is going to be in that team room and they are going to be thinking about Medinah – I’m going to make sure they are thinking about Medinah,” he said, stressing the point. “I’m giving my secret away as a captain, but I know in my career when I had a big setback, the way I reacted to it was pretty positive most of the time.”
It has been a positive season so far for Montgomerie. With the US Senior PGA and US Senior Open titles in the bag, he will become the first man since Gary Player in 1988 if he can complete a notable hat-trick by adding this crown.
“At least this time I crossed the Severn Bridge with clubs in my car,” joked the Scot of how “weird” it felt to have left them behind for that Ryder Cup four years ago.
In addition to Watson, his rivals here include 2010 winner and last year’s runner-up Bernhard Langer, as well Miguel Angel Jimenez, who won on his over-50s debut on the Champions Tour in April.