Watson offers no guarantee of selection to Woods or Mickelson
Experienced duo may well be crowd pleasers and ratings magnets but form will dictate if they make US side
Tiger Woods tips his cap on the 18th green after finishing his final round of the British Open Championship at Hoylake. Photograph: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
The early-arriving British Open fans formed a receiving line along Royal Liverpool’s first hole and tried to finagle a greeting from Tiger Woods with their cries. From young voices, old voices, high voices and low voices came a steady stream of good cheer: “Welcome back, Tiger.” “C’mon Tiger.” “Go Tige’.” “I play golf because of you, Tiger.”
The best US golfers will return to Britain in September for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. Judging by the Britons’ send-off for Woods at Hoylake, it would seem they are not assuming he will grace their shores again anytime soon.
Woods, playing his sixth competitive round since returning from back surgery that sidelined him for nearly four months, closed with a three-over-par 75 for a 72-hole total of six-over 294.
Only four players, including the reigning US Open champion Martin Kaymer, posted a higher number on Sunday. Scoring seven strokes better than Woods for the round was Tom Watson, the 64-year-old in whose hands Woods’ Ryder Cup fate rests.
After Watson finished his five-birdie, one-bogey masterpiece, he stopped to answer a few questions, one of which concerned Woods’ Ryder Cup status.
Repeating himself, Watson said as long as Woods was healthy and playing well, he would be on the team that faces the Europeans. “What’s he doing today?” Watson added. “Is he shooting under par?”
When Woods’ score was relayed to him, Watson kept his poker face, as befits a man holding his three captain’s picks close to his sweater vest.
RankingsWith two main Ryder Cup auditions left – the World Golf Championships event in Akron, Ohio, and the year’s final major, the PGA Championship – Woods has 71 players ahead of him in the US rankings.
The first nine in the rankings are guaranteed spots, and to add furrows to Watson’s brow, another Ryder Cup mainstay, Phil Mickelson, has not played his way onto the team. The two players immediately ahead of Mickelson, who is 12th, are Patrick Reed and Brendon Todd. Reed, 23, has two wins in 2014 but has missed the cut in two of the three Majors.
Todd, 28, has four top-five finishes, including a victory, in his past seven starts. “I can’t really say that I expect to be picked,” Todd said after closing with a 67 to finish at one-under 287. “Phil and Tiger are the best players in the world, and you really can’t ever say they’re not worthy of a pick.”
Woods and Mickelson have made 16 Ryder Cups between them. Watson is hopeful they will sharpen their games at the next two events, and during the FedEx Cup play-offs for which Woods has yet to qualify.
“If Phil and Tiger don’t make it in the mix, I’ve got some real thinking to do,” Watson said. “Everybody is thinking that I’m going to pick them automatically. I can assure you that I’m not going to pick them automatically.”
That is fine with Mickelson, who said he would like to keep his 19-year streak going of making it on merit. “If I don’t get in on my own, I don’t know if I’ve played well enough this year to deserve a spot,” he said after closing with a 68 to finish tied for 23rd. “You want players that are hot, that are playing well. And I need to step up and start doing that.”
Watson is intent on putting together a 12-man squad willing and able to avenge the Americans’ upset loss to Europe at Medinah in 2012. Thickening the plot is the fact that the top nine in the US standings are collectively thin on experience.
With the exception of Jim Furyk, who all but nailed down his ninth appearance with his fourth-place finish on Sunday, none have competed in more than three Ryder Cups, and two – Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth – would be rookies.
Spieth was on last year’s Presidents Cup team but challenging an International squad on home soil is a golf holiday compared with facing the Europeans on the road.
LeadershipBubba Watson, who sits at number one, has appeared in two Ryder Cups. Is Bubba Watson, who exhorted the crowd to make noise at last year’s Presidents Cup, the leader Tom Watson wants the rest of the team falling in line behind? Before heading home after missing the cut, Bubba Watson spoke of the team event as if it were a biennial barnstorming tour.
He said: “At the Ryder Cup there are a lot of people that don’t play golf. There are a lot of sponsors that have probably never seen the golf course before. So just trying to grow the game in a different way. That’s what Ryder Cup is all about. It’s not drawing blood to one another.”
The other Watson has a different view, judging by the gleam in his eye when he spoke of Rickie Fowler, who was seventh in the points race at the week’s start. Of Fowler, who cemented his spot with his tie for second on Sunday, Tom Watson said he was “at the stage right now where he’s about ready to run the table”.
He added: “I’m looking at all the players that have a chance. I said about Tiger that I’ll pick him if he’s playing well and he’s in good health. And Phil is the same way. If he’s playing well, again, how can you not pick those two?”
Mickelson and Woods are crowd pleasers, and ratings magnets, which is lost on neither the captain nor the playing candidates. “I know the only way I’m going to be on the team is if I make the team,” said Matt Every, who has one victory in 2014, which is one victory more than Woods and Mickelson combined. Every, who posted a 78 on Sunday, added: “There’s just so many things that go into it, and it’s shaping up like a lot of good players might not be in the top nine so I could see it being a tough spot for a captain.”
At Gleneagles, a premium will be placed on driving, which is one part of Woods’ game that needs polishing (his short game is another). Woods’ 69th-place finish, his worst showing as a professional in a Major in which he completed 72 holes, included nine bogeys, three double bogeys and two triple bogeys.
If Woods were Watson, would he use a captain’s pick on him? “I would say yes,” Woods said. “But that’s my position, my take on it. Obviously it’s his decision. He’s going to field the best 12 players that he thinks will win the Cup back. And I hope I’m on the team.” New York Times