GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - If Tom Watson needed an early night after Friday’s Ryder Cup setback he is going to need medicinal fortification on Saturday after another foursomes drubbing that left his U.S. team 10-6 down.
Watson looked every day of his 65 years on Friday evening, struggling to sound enthusiastic after Europe’s record 3-1/2 - 1/2 foursomes win and, despite a brief morning rally, he was again left searching for answers when Europe repeated the emphatic scoreline 24 hours later.
“When I look back on it, maybe playing the players too much would be one regret,” he said after repeated probing in a news conference.
“They got a little tired and maybe I regret not understanding that they couldn’t handle it.
“We can talk about decisions on teams all you want but it’s the players that perform that you have to talk about.”
Or, in the case of Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, those who did not, because all three major champions were left on the sidelines all day.
At 44 and with arthritis issues, Mickelson battled through the chill wind for all 36 holes on Friday with even his coach Butch Harmon saying he looked out of gas by the end.
Mickelson begged to play — twice — on Saturday but Watson stood his ground.
“He was exhausted — and he didn’t play very well yesterday,” he said of the man making a U.S. record 10th appearance.
“Maybe that was the wrong choice for me playing him two rounds yesterday.”
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight the decisions of the trailing captain look poor while those of his rival are treated with exaggerated respect.
This weekend, however, it does looks as if Paul McGinley has shuffled his pack with a far defter touch, seemingly more aware of the physical and mental demands of the event and sticking to a plan he has gradually developed while Watson took a more seat-of-the-pants approach.
Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler were flogged too hard and looked spent when they attempted a fourth consecutive round. It was no surprise when they blown away by fresh opponents playing their second match of the weekend.
Watson agreed again.
“Yep, Jimmy got a little tired today and maybe it was the wrong decision to play him in all four rounds,” he said.
The captain, however, stood by his surprise decision on Friday to rest rookie duo Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed after their storming fourballs win.
Let loose again on Saturday, for both sessions, they won in the morning and were the only Americans on the board in the afternoon when they halved with Europe’s top performer Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer.
“The one very bright spot for our team was the play of Patrick and Jordan,” he said.
“I think it was a good decision, to sit them yesterday because now I look at four rounds of maybe it was a little too tough on the players.”
Watson rewarded the youngsters by naming them one and two in his singles lineup for Sunday — when they will face Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson — and said everyone in the U.S. camp believed they could turn the match around.
“There’s been a little bit of history with 10-6 comebacks — the Europeans in 2012 and of course 1999 at Brookline,” he said.
“Every player right here is going to have to play their hearts out and play better than we have. You might think that it’s a given that the Europeans are going to win, but I sure as hell don’t.”
Of course, should the U.S. manage to turn it around on Sunday, with his rookies giving him a flying start and the fresh legs of Mickelson, Bradley and Simpson leading the way, the verdict on Watson’s captaincy will look very different.
That remains a long shot, however, as Europe remain on course to chalk up their eighth win in 10 Ryder Cups, making America’s decision to select a captain three times older than his youngest team member look fatally flawed.
Editing by Ed Osmond