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Thursday, December 13, 2012
Updated: December 17, 10:13 AM ET
Tom Watson named Ryder captain

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

Tom Watson was named captain of the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team on Thursday and will become the oldest to hold the position when the matches are played at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Watson, 63, an eight-time major winner who won four of his five Open Championships in Scotland, will captain the team for the second time -- 21 years after a 1993 U.S. victory at The Belfry in England. That was the last time the U.S. won overseas, and the Americans have just two victories in the biennial competition since Watson's triumph as captain.

"I was waiting for about 20 years to get the call," Watson said Thursday morning on the "Today" show in New York, where he was officially announced as the PGA of America choice. "I loved it the first time. And I've been a great fan of the Ryder Cup. ... It's just a great honor to be able to do it again. This time we need 14.5 points.

"I lived for that [Ryder Cup] pressure and lived underneath that pressure all my career. I just hope I can kind of set the table for these players to go out. Like I say, I'm the stage manager. I set the stage for them, and they go out and perform their act. In two years, I hope that we can get it done."

Although it became clear on Tuesday that Watson would be the next U.S. captain, his appointment comes as a bit of a surprise. Watson's selection is a departure from a long-followed PGA of America policy which appointed captains who were 45 to 50 years old and still playing on the PGA Tour. Watson, who lost in a playoff at the 2009 Open Championship, hasn't played more than 10 events on the PGA Tour since 1999. He was 44 when he captained the team to a 15-13 victory in 1993.

"We've done things a little bit different this year," PGA of America president Ted Bishop said at a New York City media luncheon on Tuesday, hinting at what was to come.

Watson certainly meets the other criteria long cited for captaincy. Although he never won a PGA Championship, he did capture eight major titles. Unquestionably, Watson will be a popular figure among the opponents' gallery.

"I think there's something to be said for a captain who is older that is separated from the players a little bit," said Corey Pavin, who was 50 when he captained the U.S. team in 2010. "You can argue both ways. I kind of look at the trend of what's happened over the last group of years with captains being more peers of players and you look at what's happened with the record. I think that has something to do with the Ryder Cup and the United States. ... I'm in favor of having older captains. I think that's a good thing. I think players will have a different kind of respect for their captains. I think they always have respect for their captains, but it's a different kind of respect with an older captain."

Watson was a four-time Ryder Cup participant as a player and the winner of 39 PGA Tour events.

"Tom always has been a wonderful golfer and remains one, but he is also a good leader," said Jack Nicklaus, who before Watson was the last American repeat captain back in 1987. "He has had a lot of experience in the Ryder Cup, as a player and a previous captain. So I am certain that when he goes to Gleneagles, he will prepare properly to do a nice job.

"And one thing is for certain, he will be well embraced by the people and golf fans in Scotland."

Watson also played on three winning Ryder Cup teams (he missed the 1979 event because of the birth of his daughter), posting a 10-4-1 record on teams that went 3-0-1.

"Some have asked if he's in touch with the players, but Tom Watson has been relevant for a number of years, even after age 50," said ESPN analyst and 2002 U.S. captain Curtis Strange. "Tom Watson has the name. He has the record. And he almost won the British Open at 60. He has your attention and he's kind of an in-your-face guy. Does that affect the outcome? Who knows.

"That can either work for you or against you. If they buy into whatever you're telling them, then it works. You never know. But I actually think in today's Ryder Cup, this gets their attention."

How Watson gets along with Tiger Woods will be of great interest going forward.

"I'd like to congratulate Tom Watson on his selection as Ryder Cup captain," Woods said Thursday. "I think he's a really good choice. Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 United States team."

Woods, 36, was the leading point earner in the qualifying process for the U.S. team this year but had a poor record at Medinah, going 0-3-1. In the aftermath of Woods' personal problems, Watson was critical of the 14-time major champion.

Among other things, Watson said of Woods in 2010: "I think he needs to clean up his act and show the respect for the game that other people before him have shown."

Then again, Watson is said to be his own man. During the 1993 Ryder Cup, Watson was not big into consulting assistants or other players, according to Paul Azinger, who played on that team. "He kept saying, 'We are going to win because I'm lucky,'" Azinger recalled.

Perhaps unlucky is David Toms. He was the clear choice to succeed Davis Love III as captain if previous protocol was followed. And were it not for a final-day collapse by the Americans -- who held a 10-6 lead but lost 14 to 13 back in September -- perhaps Toms, 45, would have been announced as the captain Thursday.

That is not to say that Love was at fault at Medinah. Although some of his players stumbled in Sunday's singles matches, others simply ran into incredible runs by the Europeans. Justin Rose birdied the last two holes to beat Phil Mickelson while both Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker also lost late leads for the Americans.

If the PGA of America was going to "think outside the box" as Bishop suggested, many believed that Larry Nelson deserved a chance at captain. Several past U.S. captains had spoken with PGA of America officials to offer their support for Nelson, 65, who won the PGA Championship twice and was 9-3-1 in his three Ryder Cup appearances.

Past captains Lanny Wadkins and Raymond Floyd, who are in Orlando playing in the Father-Son Challenge along with seven other former Ryder Cup captains, were supportive of Watson.

"I think it's a great selection," said Wadkins, who captained the 1995 team. "Something needed to be shook up somewhere. The PGA probably thought this through and made a bold move. Tom's an excellent captain, I played for him and he will do a wonderful job. I think maybe today's players can use a little Watson-kicking-their-butt-type attitude. I think that would go a long way towards putting a win on the board. I think it's the right move at the right time."

Floyd, who became the oldest American at age 51 to play in the Ryder Cup in 1993, clinched the winning point on Watson's team in the 15-13 victory.

"I think it's a terrific idea," said Floyd, who beat Jose Maria Olazabal in singles (Floyd played on the team twice after he was captain in 1989). "I'm thrilled for Tom. I think it will be great. I think it will be great for golf. I think it will be great for our team. I think it will be great for him. I was ecstatic when I heard."

The qualification process for the U.S. team -- eight automatic qualifiers and four at-large selections -- will include only the four major championships during the 2013 season, based on money earned. The PGA is still determining when it will begin the points process in earnest for the 2013-14 season.

The European side is expected to name its captain in January during the week of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.