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Analysis: Watson should captain U.S. Ryder team

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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 7:52 p.m.
 

Remember this before saluting PGA of America officials for going “outside the box” when they selected Tom Watson as the next Ryder Cup captain: They're the ones who built the box in the first place.

With due respect to Larry Nelson, who has more reason than ever to believe he will never be a captain, and David Toms, who looked to be the best option inside the box, it's tough to argue against Watson as the perfect pick for the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland.

If there's a complaint, it might that it took the PGA of America so long.

For too many years, there was a feeling that a Ryder Cup captain had to be a major champion in his late 40s — old enough that he probably wouldn't qualify for the team, young enough to still be playing on the PGA Tour so that he would have a pulse on the players, their skills and their personalities.

Watson will be 65 when the 2014 matches are played in Scotland, making him the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history. Is he still in touch with today's game?

One answer came Sunday in Sydney when Watson had the lowest score of the final round (69) in the Australian Open. He offered an even stronger answer Thursday without even being asked.

“The idea of being captain for a team of youngsters will be questioned,” Watson said. “I deflect that very simply by saying we play the same game. I play against these kids at the Masters. I play against them at the British Open, the Greenbrier Classic. We play the same game, and they understand that. I understand that.”

The other question about the selection was his relationship with Tiger Woods, which shouldn't be a factor and won't be.

In the months after Woods was caught having extramarital affairs, Watson didn't mince words when he said it was time for Woods to show a little more humility and “clean up his act.” Privately, Watson had been on Woods for his language on the golf course, even before Woods' personal life came undone.

Woods might hold grudges over little things, but he tends to take the high road on weightier matters. It was not surprising to see him issue a statement, just minutes after Watson was introduced on the “Today” show, to congratulate Watson and say that “I think he's a really good choice.”

“Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal,” Woods said, adding that he hoped to have the “privilege” of playing for him.

Watson returned praise to Woods that was even more effusive.

“He's the best player maybe in the history of the game,” Watson said. “And if he's not on the team for any unforeseen reason ... you can bet that he's going to be No. 1 on my pick list.”

One overrated aspect of having Watson as captain is that he is far enough removed from these players that he won't coddle them, allowing them to dictate who they want as partners and when they want to play. That's easy to identify as a problem in defeat. It worked just fine for Davis Love III when the Americans had a 10-6 lead going into the last day at Medinah. If not for Ian Poulter's five straight birdies or Justin Rose making a 35-foot putt, that's not even an issue.

You want a captain who calls all the shots? That didn't work out very well for Hal Sutton, who was saddled with a team in poor form.

No matter who is captain, the players still decide who gets the gold trophy.

“The most important thing is for me as a captain is to get lucky,” Watson said. “I just hope I get lucky and that happens, that the players that are coming there are all playing well, and that we're playing as a team, it will put us in a good chance of winning the tournament.”

The PGA of America was looking for the right man for the right time. And once it stepped outside its box, the choice was obvious.

Doug Ferguson is the national golf writer for The Associated Press.

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