Watson to keep wildcard for Woods

US Ryder Cup captain will offer Tiger a place at Gleneagles if he fails to qualify

Tiger Woods grimages after playing a bunker shot during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Doral last month. Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Tiger Woods grimages after playing a bunker shot during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Doral last month. Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 17:40

It is hardly one of golf’s best kept secrets that Tom Watson and Tiger Woods would not choose to spend great lengths of time in each other’s company. With that in mind, the relationship between the two Americans has been identified as one fascinating dynamic during this Ryder Cup year. Before, that is, Woods’s playing in the event was placed into serious doubt by enforced back surgery.

Now, Watson, the USA captain, has said that he will offer Woods a wild card selection for the meeting with Europe at Gleneagles in September if necessary. Woods hopes to be back in competitive action at some point this summer but the nature of his injury leaves that open to question.

“I’ve been asked a little bit about: ‘What if he doesn’t make the team?’” Watson said. “I’ll pick him for the team. I just hope he gets well and starts to play again without pain. That’s all that matters.

“Everybody’s been in pain before, every golfer. For some, it’s ended their careers. For others, they’ve beat it and corrected with surgery. Obviously I hope this is corrected with surgery. Obviously, I hope that he can recover and again swing the club without any pain.”

This represents a smart move by Watson, simply because it immediately halts what would have become an incessant line of questioning for months on end. When it was pointed out that he had not been slow to criticise Woods in the past, either for on or off-course behaviour, Watson added: “We all change.”

Against this backdrop, it must be noted that Woods has never previously displayed any strong appetite towards the Ryder Cup. It is safe to say the thought of appearing in Scotland in late September does not currently feature on his priority list.

Ian Woosnam, the 1991 Masters champion, has offered some insight into what back trouble means for golfers. Woosnam battled with back injuries for the majority of his career and now seriously doubts whether Woods can match the Jack Nicklaus haul of 18 major championships.

“It is impossible to play golf with a bad back,” said Woosnam. “There are a lot of things you can put it down to. It can be age; as you get older, you lose your flexibility. Working in the gym a lot, practising a lot, over time all these things come together. Most probably now after 30 plus years, Tiger is feeling the pressure of it all.

“If you look at Tiger’s swing, he gets to the top then has that squat where he drops down two or three inches or even more. That is creating a lot of torque on his spine. As you lose your flexibility, your muscles get stiffer so when you do have an injury, all of a sudden they tighten up and go into a spasm.”

He added: “What was worse for me was that I found myself always looking at the weather. If the weather was warm and sunny, you had more chance of playing well. If it was a little bit cold, that was a distraction for me because I knew I was going to tighten up and get stiffer. Tiger, I would have thought, might be the same.

“After all of these years of practice and gym work, the body is starting to fall to pieces a little bit. That’s what happens when you get older. He has dedicated his life to being the best golfer in the world.”

Dustin Johnson’s departure after just 18 holes of the Shell Houston Open is likely to cost him by way of a fine from the PGA Tour. After carding 80, the worst score of Thursday, Johnson immediately withdrew from the event but did not offer any explanation to rules officials. Not a very smart move, particularly when taken by one of the world’s top players.

Nor, it seems, was the Golf Digest’s decision to place Johnson’s scantily-clad fiancee Paulina Gretzky on the front cover of their magazine. Leading female professionals have expressed annoyance at the photo shoot, as they battle for a stronger media presence. Gretzky is the daughter of the ice hockey great, Wayne.

“It’s frustrating for female golfers,” said Stacy Lewis, who is ranked No3 in the world. “It’s the state of where we’ve always been. We don’t get the respect for being the golfers we are. Obviously, Golf Digest is trying to sell magazines, but at the same time you like to see a little respect for the women’s game.” Guardian Service

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