LOUISVILLE — A day after the PGA Championship completed the list of nine automatic entries on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Tom Watson made clear which golfer tops the list of players he wants among his three captain’s picks. If Tiger Woods is healthy and playing well, Watson said, “I’ll pick him.”
But it will be up to Woods to let Watson know that he can meet those two criteria. When he was asked bluntly if he can trust the greatest golfer of this generation, who withdrew from a tournament Aug. 3 and missed the cut at the PGA because of a back problem, the captain replied just as bluntly, “Absolutely.”
“He’s just like me. I’m direct and he’s direct,” Watson said during a news conference Monday morning at Valhalla Golf Club, site of the season’s final major. “I can’t assess his medical condition and I honestly can’t assess how he is playing. It is really going to have to come from information from Tiger himself.”
There is no doubt that Woods is willing.
Watson said, “Actually Tiger said that to me in our conversation, ‘I want you to pick me.’ ”
That came in the context of a story about other Americans asserting that they wish to force Watson’s hand by playing well. Woods does not have the same option because he did not accumulate enough points to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs.
Watson will announce his three captain’s picks Sept. 2, with a show business touch. It will happen on the set of “Saturday Night Live.” Those three selections will join the following nine golfers in facing Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland on Sept. 26-28: Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson. The latter three clinched their spots at the PGA Championship, which is the deadline for automatic Ryder Cup qualifying.
Despite his lack of form since returning from a microdiscectomy in late March, Woods is a natural choice in Watson’s eyes.
“I don’t make this comment loosely,” Watson said. “He is Tiger Woods and he brings a lot to the team. And I’d be a fool not to consider him.”
Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, who contended at the U.S. Open and finished 21st on the Ryder Cup points list, also would provide an inspirational boost and is “on my radar,” Watson said.
No matter who is on the squad, the United States will enter as a decided underdog to a European team led by Rory McIlroy, who won his fourth career major title in galvanizing fashion Sunday.
“I wish he was playing for my team, I can tell you that,” Watson said. “Right now, he’s driving the ball better than anybody in the game. When you have the ability to drive the ball that far, the game is easy. And he knows it and everybody else knows it.”