Tom Watson reaffirms desire to have Woods on Ryder Cup team

Five-time winner has ambitions himself of making a splash at Hoylake this week

American Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson  hits a tee shot during  practice at Royal Liverpool ahead  of the 143rd British Open. Photograph:  Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

American Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson hits a tee shot during practice at Royal Liverpool ahead of the 143rd British Open. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:00

Nostalgia, especially of the teary-eyed kind, is part and parcel of any British Open week. Yesterday, it was old Tom Watson’s turn to reminisce, even if there was a more serious edge to questioning and answering – in his role as US Ryder Cup captain – when it came to the subject of Tiger Woods.

An eight-time Major champion, five of them Claret Jugs, Watson won’t wave goodbye to the old championship just yet, having received a year’s extension to his exemption from the R&A so he can perform his swansong next year at St Andrews which, he admitted, would be an emotional occasion.

In the footsteps

“I’m just a copycat, I guess,” said Watson, of his desire to follow in the footsteps of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus who also finished-up their British Open careers at the Old Course.

More seriously, though, Watson reaffirmed his desire to have Woods – who has played only once, missing the cut, since back surgery in March which meant he couldn’t play in either the Masters or the US Open – in his team for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

“If he’s playing well and he’s healthy, I’ll pick him,” claimed Watson, before adding there was “the caveat” of Woods not managing to get into the FedEx Cup play-offs.

“What to do then? And that’s the question I can’t answer right now . . . . I’ll be watching Tiger and I want him on the team. I do. He’s a tough competitor, great in the team room,” added Watson.

Woods, of course, could provide all of the solutions to Watson’s concerns by proing his old winning instincts are alive and well in this week’s British Open.

After all, when it was last staged here in 2006, Woods stomped around the baked links as if he owned it. Why not again?

“I wouldn’t write off Tiger Woods for a long time, the way he plays the game. He’s a tough competitor. He knows how to swing the golf club. And, yes, he’s had some injuries and other things, issues, but the thing is, he’s had a long career, and I fully expect it to be a longer career,” said Watson.

Competitive juices

On a cool, breezy day here on Merseyside, Watson – now 64 – showed the competitive juices continue to flow. Even though he was only hitting his driver yesterday as far as Henrik Stenson was pummelling a six-iron, Watson referred to Woods’s conquering of the links in 2006 as justification that he too could compete in the championship in the late autumn of his career.

As Watson put it, “the thing about this golf course is these guys aren’t going to be hitting driver. I understand how Tiger won in 2006 here, very simply. He was the best iron player by far during that tournament. By far. His iron play was spot on.

“So my iron play has got to elevate. It has to elevate in its quality right now for me to feel like I might have a sniff at (winning). You don’t have to hit driver here. You can position the ball. If I’m putting well enough and making some putts, who knows? Again, I hope it shows up. But I can’t predict it.”

Watson wasn’t alone in getting acquainted with the links. Shane Lowry – clearly in good form on the back of a tied-fourth finish in the Scottish Open – got his first taste of the course in playing nine holes alongside amateur Paul Dunne, from Greystones, British amateur champion Bradley Neil and world number one Adam Scott. Lowry has moved up to 68th from 73rd in the world rankings on the back of his finish in Scotland.

Practice

Graeme McDowell – winner of the French Open less than a fortnight ago – was another who got in some practice, playing with Boo Weekley and Bryden Macpherson.

Come Thursday, McDowell will feature in one of the marquee groups having been drawn for the first two rounds with Louis Oosthuizen and Matt Kuchar, while Rory McIlroy has been put in a “young guns” grouping alongside Hedeki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth.

Two-time winner Padraig Harrington (drawn with Charl Schwartzel and KJ Choi) is sandwiched between the McIlroy group and the Woods group.

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