HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - Tom Watson looked the picture of charm and grace as he outplayed scores of golfers half his age at last week’s British Open but, make no mistake, he did not win eight majors without having a steely edge.
The 64-year-old United States Ryder Cup captain has more than half an eye on the match against holders Europe in Scotland in September and he made two verbal declarations at Hoylake that left no doubt as to how seriously he is taking the biennial team event.
Watson left open the possibility that some of his 12 players may not be called upon until the last-day singles and he rejected the notion that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are guaranteed places in his side.
Asked by Reuters in an interview if he planned to rotate his team on the opening two days in order to make sure everyone gets a taste of the action ahead of the singles, he shrugged his shoulders.
“Who knows?,” he said. “I told my players when I was captain for the first time in 1993 and I’ll them the same now, I’ll do whatever I can to win this thing.”
Five-times Open champion Watson ended his Hoylake campaign in rousing fashion on Sunday when a four-under 68 gave him a tie for 51st place.
Among the players lower than the veteran American on the final leaderboard were former world number ones Woods and Luke Donald, seventh-ranked Matt Kuchar, number eight Jason Day and last month’s U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer.
Watson will continue to compete at this week’s Senior British Open at Royal Porthcawl in Wales before beginning the countdown to the Ryder Cup.
The American, who led his team to victory over Bernard Gallacher’s Europeans in his previous match in charge at The Belfry 21 years ago, does not want to over-complicate matters for his team when they get to Gleneagles.
“I will only do two things, as I see it,” said Watson who surprised MasterCard cardholders at nearby Caldy Golf Club last week and delivered a golf lesson as part of the #PricelessSurprises program.
”How do I assess their play and how do I think the players can affect our team out on the course?
“I’ll set the stage, arrange all the practice sessions, help them to learn their lines, but when they go out it’s down to them to perform.”
Watson’s vice-captain Andy North told Reuters this month that the American skipper’s popularity in Scotland, scene of four of his five Open triumphs, would be an advantage.
“I don’t buy that, I don’t buy that at all,” scoffed Watson.
”I may be popular from a personal point of view but make no mistake the Scottish fans will want me to fail in the Ryder Cup and that’s the way it should be.
“The Ryder Cup is partisan, you want your team to win. It’s us against them and I got that lesson early in my career.”
Watson went on to describe an incident he was involved in during the 1977 Ryder Cup at Royal Lytham, his debut in the biennial team event.
“Hubert Green and I were six up against Tommy Horton and Brian Barnes and looked as if we were about to go seven up with seven holes to play,” he added.
”We were on the green, Tommy made his putt and I missed and the crowd cheered. That was the moment I got it, right there and then.
“You don’t want hecklers out there or anything like that but that’s what the Ryder Cup is all about, cheering your own team on.”
Woods and Mickelson, who have 19 major victories between them, are way down the Ryder Cup points list and look like they may need one of the captain’s three wildcard selections for Gleneagles.
A U.S. team without either of them seems highly improbable but Watson sees things differently.
“Everybody is thinking that I‘m going to pick them automatically, I can assure you that I‘m not going to pick them automatically,” the skipper told reporters.
“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.”
Editing by Ed Osmond