Five reactions to Watson as Ryder Cup captain

By Jason SobelDecember 13, 2012, 4:34 pm

You know, it’s funny: When it comes to debate and conjecture about Ryder Cup captains, half the people spend way too much time discussing and dissecting the markings of a good one, while half the people constantly contend that the role is overstated and overrated in the first place. So what’s the funny part? They’re often the same people.

It’s no secret that there’s only so much a captain can do. There are pretty much just two hard and fast rules: 1. Don’t pair guys who shouldn’t play together (ahem, Hal Sutton); and 2. Don’t outfit the mighty red, white and blue in lilac and periwinkle (looking at you, Corey Pavin). Maybe it’s oversimplification to contend that everything else is decided by the dozen players on the team, but there’s no defense against the argument which reminds us that captains don’t hit any tee shots and don’t stroke any putts.

And yet, here we are. More than 21 months before the next edition of the biennial competition, we’re batting around the idea of whether Tom Watson is the right man for the job. We’re going to learn much more about the ramifications of this decision in due time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some immediate reactions. Here are five of ‘em:

1. There is no ideal age for a Ryder Cup captain.

It was somewhere around the third chorus of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” during the 12/12/12 concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy that it dawned on me. If Mick Jagger can pout and strut and sing his lungs out on stage every night at age 69, then Watson shouldn’t have too much of an issue pairing up a few professional golfers when he’s 65.

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s announcement, PGA president Ted Bishop promised that he would go “outside the box” with his selection. Well, this is more like he stepped on the box and crushed it. There has been a specific set of prerequisites for captains in recent years – each of the last five was between 46 and 50 years old and had played in at least eight PGA Tour events during the year of his captaincy – but Watson doesn’t fit any of 'em.

What this means is that no longer can veteran U.S. golfers wait their turn to pass through the turnstile. David Toms has already felt the effect of this decision, figuring to be the lone man who met those prerequisites this time around. If I’m a guy like Jim Furyk or Justin Leonard, right now I’m very nervous that my assumed place in the schedule has been usurped by the call to go in another direction.

Up until this week, you could have scheduled captains for the next dozen years. Toms. Leonard. Furyk. Steve Stricker. Phil Mickelson. Tiger Woods. Maybe not all of them, maybe not in that exact order, but based on what we knew about credentials, that list would be pretty close.

And there’s one man to credit – or blame, as the case may be. As someone close with Toms told me this week, if Justin Rose doesn’t make those two long putts on the last two holes at Medinah on Sunday, the U.S. wins and the PGA of America retains the status quo going forward. Those two putts changed the course of the captaincy.

2. Watson may steal some support.

I’ll be the first to admit when I lose an argument, and I went down in a first-round TKO in the Golf Channel office Wednesday morning. While discussing Watson’s impending captaincy with a producer, I made the flippant comment that I didn’t believe his presence would negate any sort of home-field advantage for the Europeans in Scotland. I said it without thinking of the consequences, without putting myself on the Gleneagles course two years from now.

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The producer countered with the notion that having Watson in charge would keep the raucous crowd reaction to a minimum. Think about it, he told me: If Watson – a man revered in that country, a man who won four of his five Open Championship titles there – sits down in the interview room on Thursday and explains that what he loves about Scottish golf fans is that they cheer great golf and aren’t too partisan toward their side, the folks behind the ropes won’t want to disappoint him. If Watson is standing next to the green and an American player misses a crucial putt, it will take just one cursory glance toward the spectators to curb their enthusiasm.

That’s not to suggest that European fans won’t cheer for their side, because they will. But if it’s even 5 percent less boisterous on the course, that’s a built-in advantage for the American side – or at least less of a disadvantage.

3. There should be an interview process.

It’s pretty apparent that at some point following this year’s loss – whether it was a month later or a week or a day or even seconds after Martin Kaymer holed the clinching putt – PGA of America officials had decided that Watson would be the man to lead the team on foreign soil in two years.

Other candidates, though, should have been afforded the opportunity to at least make an impression.

When the Indianapolis Colts held the No. 1 overall draft pick this year, they were sold on Andrew Luck, but that didn’t prevent the team from also working out Robert Griffin III and other possible choices. Even if the PGA folks knew whom their selection would be, meetings with other candidates could have prevented some needless hang-wringing in recent days.

How? Well, there was the whole he said-he said as to whether Bishop had gone to the courtesy of contacting the likes of Toms and Larry Nelson, each of whom figured to be amongst the mix. As it turns out, Bishop finally spoke with Toms on Tuesday morning – after the Thursday announcement was already scheduled – and reached Nelson on Wednesday afternoon.

All of this could have been avoided if these men had been brought in for an interview process – either formal or informal – prior to this week. At the very least, it’s a common courtesy to a few PGA Championship winners who deserve it; at best, officials become smitten with one of these candidates, maybe even tabbing him for the job two years down the road.

4. It’s not all about Tiger.

When Steve Stricker was struggling mightily at Medinah, some critics were quick to pick on Davis Love III for naming a captain’s pick simply because Woods wanted his buddy and regular partner on the team. Forget the fact that Stricker was ranked 10th in the world at the time of the selection and is one of the game’s best putters. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

It’s been a familiar refrain for the past decade and a half: Whatever Tiger wants, Tiger gets. In some respects, that’s been true, but not this time. Despite being a fellow T-Dub who attended Stanford University, Woods and Watson haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, with the latter often offering some vocal critical analysis about the former's on- and off-course behavior in recent years.

Heck, if Woods could have his way, a buddy like Mark O’Meara would be serving his fourth term as captain. If he’s received any preferential treatment from other skippers – and there’s no evidence that he has – Tiger certainly won’t get any from Watson, though we should expect their frosty relationship to warm up in the next two years.

In fact, it already has. Woods reacted to the announcement by saying, “I think he's a really good choice. Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 United States team.” That may reek of prepared statement, but it also diffuses any lingering contempt. Don’t be surprised when Watson similarly offers an olive branch throughout his tenure.

5. Maybe it’s time for a long-term captain.

When he introduced Watson at Thursday’s news conference, Bishop didn’t mince words. He said the decision was made because he wants the U.S. to win again.

No problem with that. Makes sense. But it also calls into question the current process of having each captain serve a two-year term before packing up his belongings and heading off into the sunset. Now, if the PGA had deemed the Ryder Cup just an exhibition and wanted to give every great player a chance to lead, then it’s difficult to criticize this process. By naming Watson to a second term, though, officials have admitted that this is more travel ball than Little League; in other words, they only want the best of the best as opposed to letting everyone take a turn at bat.

Since that’s the case, why not appoint a man to the position and let him remain in that capacity until one or both parties decide to end that relationship? If that sounds like an unconventional idea, then clearly other national teams are unconventional, because this is the exact model for the country’s squads in basketball, soccer and other sports.

It’s an intriguing idea for the Ryder Cup. It would give the captain an ability to forge relationships for more than 21 months, to get a feel for which players mesh well with others and the experience of what it takes to win – or avoid losing, which is just as important – rather than always attempting it for the first time.

Hey, it could happen. If Watson leads his team to victory in Scotland at the age of 65, there’s no reason he couldn’t also do that at 67 and 69 and 71. The PGA of America could do a lot worse than keeping him in a long-term role. Maybe it’ll be like those old playground basketball games: Win and stay on.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

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There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”