Watson goes with experience, gut feeling in captain's picks for U.S. Ryder Cup team
Webb Simpson hits out of the bunker on the 12th hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., on June 12, 2014. (AP / Charlie Riedel)
Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, September 3, 2014 7:29AM EDT
NEW YORK -- U.S. captain Tom Watson said he wanted to fill out his Ryder Cup team with players who were on form and starting to peak.
The final pick was more about two years ago than what happened the day before.
Watson went with experience -- and a gut feeling -- when he selected Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson to complete an American team that will try to end two decades of European dominance in the Ryder Cup.
He didn't decide until Tuesday morning to go with Simpson, persuaded by a pair of big wins he had in the last Ryder Cup. That was enough for Watson to take him over Chris Kirk, who went head-to-head with Rory McIlroy over the last 36 holes Monday and won the Deutsche Bank Championship.
"Nobody is going to expect us to win," Watson said Tuesday night from Rockefeller Center. "But I fully expect us to win."
Bradley and Mahan weren't surprising choices.
Bradley wears his Ryder Cup passion proudly, and he made a sterling debut two years ago by winning all three team matches with Phil Mickelson. Even last week, he didn't hide how badly he wanted to be on the team.
Mahan won The Barclays two weeks ago against one of the strongest fields of the year. He is one of only three players on the U.S. team who has experience winning a Ryder Cup, even though he is associated more with being in the decisive match that Graeme McDowell won in Wales to deliver another win to Europe.
Simpson was a small mystery.
In his Ryder Cup debut at Medinah, he teamed with Bubba Watson for a pair of 5-and-4 victories. Simpson also lost two matches, including a singles match to Ian Poulter in a match he never trailed until Poulter won the last two holes for a 2-up victory.
Kirk, who has never played in a Ryder Cup, finished ahead of Simpson in the standings and won a FedEx Cup playoff event.
"People have to realize that's a snapshot," Watson said. "You have to look at the total package, the total picture. That's just one tournament. ... The final decision of Webb, that was the toughest of the decisions because Webb had some good play and he had some bad play. He missed a few cuts recently. But he's shown what he can do.
"The guy can get it done," he said. "He can flat get it done."
Watson bristled when asked whether he contradicted himself by saying he was looking for the hot hand after qualifying had ended at the PGA Championship, and then choosing a hot hand from two years ago.
"Why do you think I said that? Why do you think I put the pressure on them?" he said. "I put the pressure on them to play well to see if they could play well under pressure. It's not a contradiction. Webb played some damn good golf."
Whomever he chose, Watson's message was clear. The Ryder Cup, to be played Sept. 26-28 at Gleneagles, is all about redemption.
The Americans were poised to win at Medinah two years ago when they took a 10-6 lead into the final day, only for Poulter, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer to deliver key putts and big comebacks that allowed Europe to retain the cup.
Europe has won seven of the last nine times, and it will be heavily favoured in Scotland.
Earlier Tuesday, at the European Tour headquarters in Wentworth, captain Paul McGinley selected Poulter, Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher, who will be 39 when he makes his Ryder Cup debut in his home country.
Bradley said last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship there wasn't a moment that he was not thinking about the Ryder Cup. He feared being left off the team when he finished his round on Monday, and shared an emotional hug with his girlfriend when Watson gave him the good news.
"I made no secret how badly I want to go back and win the Ryder Cup," he said. "This is a redemption year for a lot of guys who were on the team last year."
Bradley and Simpson are among seven players who were on that U.S. team that was on the losing end of the "Miracle at Medinah." The others are Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
Mahan knows better than most what it's like to lose. The 2010 matches came down to the final game, and McDowell went 2-up with a birdie on the 16th hole. Mahan stubbed a chip short of the 17th green that all but secured a European victory, and it seemed to him as though all of Wales stormed across the green when it was over.
"Losing lingers," he said. "It's been four years, but it feels like yesterday. I remember walking off the green and everyone was having a big party, and I felt like I was walking by myself for 600 yards to the clubhouse."