Bubba Watson misses out on Ryder Cup place
Bubba Watson is a two-time major winner, an Olympian and the No. 7 player in the world. He finished ninth in U.S. Ryder Cup qualifying, the first man out of the points race for an automatic spot on Davis Love III’s Hazeltine National-bound team.
And after Love announced three of his four captain’s picks on Monday, Watson is still not a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
In being asked the uncomfortable question of why he didn’t select Watson, at least so far, Love seemed to suggest this was a matter of team chemistry.
“I’ve been saying all along, we’re a sports team and we have to draft the right player for the right position,” Love said. “There’s going to be a lot of stats and a lot of things to look at, but making our pairings, fitting in with the team, doing all the little things that you asked to do…these three guys filled incredible roles, a lot of different roles.”
Phil Mickelson, who qualified for the team and is a member of the PGA of America’s Ryder Cup committee, said on Sunday at the BMW Championship suggested the picks had already been made with a big assist from assistant captain Tiger Woods.
“We know who is going to be playing with who, when they’re going to be playing, what matches,” Mickelson said.
“I am so happy to see how well he has thought this through,” Mickelson added. “I can’t believe our conversations just this week, how detailed [Tiger] is and the pairings, the possibilities, the players. Not just what matches they’re going to play, but where on the list. He has got us really a good, solid game plan that is easy to buy into and get behind. I’m very impressed.”
Love, the losing captain from 2012 in Chicago, has previously said Woods told him weeks ago who he wanted on the team. Woods isn’t the only voice in Love’s ear, and the captain is soliciting a lot of input. Regardless, if the 12 were already decided and Watson didn’t make that cut, then it only mattered if the nine-time PGA Tour winner managed to play his way onto the team on points.
However, Watson was pushed out by Jimmy Walker and Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship in July and never managed to play his way back in. In fact, Watson hasn’t played elite-level golf since finishing runner-up to Adam Scott at Doral in March. He’s made 12 PGA Tour starts, not finishing once in the top 10. In the majors, Watson’s best finish was a T-37 effort at Augusta National, perhaps his favorite course on the planet.
Watson, though, will get one last opportunity to make an impression on Love. The left-hander is one of a handful of American hopefuls to make the PGA Tour’s season finale next week at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Hours after the event concludes, Love will announce his final captain’s pick during halftime of Ryder Cup broadcast partner NBC’s Sunday Night Football game.
However, Love said that the tournament isn’t a four-round tryout to make the team.
“I’d say the players that are playing in the Tour Championship need to try to win the Tour Championship and not think about Ryder Cup points,” Love said Monday. “I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve told several players is it’s not a scoring contest at the Tour Championship for who gets the Ryder Cup pick.”
That may actually be good news for Watson, who has a modest record at Tour Championship host East Lake in Atlanta. In four appearances in the last five years, Watson has finished tied for fifth twice, 14th and 23rd.
Despite some good finishes, Watson openly dislikes East Lake, taking issue with the lay of the fairways and how the ball jumps out of the rough there. The PGA Tour’s decision to reverse the club’s nines this year to finish the event on a par 5 instead of the traditional 230-yard par-3 finisher likely did little to change Watson’s mind.
There’s also an inclination to be a little bit cynical about this process.
By leaving Watson off the team in the first wave of picks, Love has time to identify a final player that he feels could match up with at least one of the other 11 players to form a possible two-man team. If that player — competing next week at East Lake or not — doesn’t surface, then Love can add Watson, who just so happens to be the highest profile potential wild-card pick, and hope for the best.
If Love’s decision comes down to compatibility, though, then Watson won’t become any more of a kindred spirit with any of his potential teammates. Not in 13 days. And that might leave U.S. fans screaming how the highest-ranked American available won’t represent his country in Minnesota.
They might then point to the 2014 U.S. team, which was pasted by the Europeans 16.5-11.5 at Gleneagles in Scotland. Captain Tom Watson, whose brand of leadership prompted the player upheaval that led to the Ryder Cup task forced and Love getting a second chance at the helm, skipped over the first, second and third players to miss out on automatic qualifying. He picked the 13th (Keegan Bradley), 15th (Webb Simpson) and 25th (Hunter Mahan) players in qualifying points. They went a combined 2-5-2 to earn the American side their eighth loss in the last 10 Ryder Cups.
The hopeful American fan, however, might point to the 2010 European Ryder Cup team. Colin Montgomerie ruffled a lot of feathers when he left off then world No. 5 Paul Casey, not selecting him with a captain’s pick. Casey never forgave Montgomerie or the European Tour, and he was ineligible to make this year’s team as he plays only on the PGA Tour now. Guess what Monty’s team did? They won.
And isn’t that what the U.S. is trying to do here?