Tom Watson likely Ryder captain

Updated: December 12, 2012, 10:28 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

With a U.S. Ryder Cup captain announcement imminent, new PGA of America president Ted Bishop said at a media luncheon Tuesday in New York that "we've done something a little bit different this year,'' in regard to its next leader.

That has led to the likelihood of Tom Watson being named U.S. captain on Thursday morning when the PGA has said it will make its plans for the 2014 Ryder Cup known in New York City.

ESPN has learned that Watson is in New York this week and GolfWorld is reporting that Watson, 63, is the choice to lead the U.S. squad.

Watson It would be cool to be a Ryder Cup captain again -- '93 was the last time I have been to a Ryder Cup. I would like to go back again as a captain. ... It would be a great honor if I got tapped on the shoulder, I know that.

-- Tom Watson

That would be a departure from recent protocol which saw the PGA choose still-active tour players who are in their mid-to-late 40s with at least one major championship on their resume and a history of playing in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups.

David Toms, 45, fits that description better than any other possible candidate. He won the 2001 PGA Championship, played on three Ryder Cup and four Presidents Cup teams, and is the obvious choice if the PGA follows recent form.

But after another Ryder Cup loss, this time a heartbreaking 14 to 13 defeat to Europe at Medinah which was due to a final-day collapse, the PGA of America is apparently thinking of a different approach for the matches to be played in Scotland.

Bishop is set to shake things up. He has said in various interviews that he wants the organization to "think outside the box,'' in regards to its next captain. Two weeks ago, he was surprisingly outspoken when golf's governing bodies announced they had proposed a ban on anchored putting.

The PGA of America (not to be confused with the PGA Tour), which among other things trains and supports the nation's club pros, is also in the business of growing the game, and Bishop didn't hold back when he questioned the USGA on the putting ban.

If Watson is indeed the choice, it'll make a big splash in the golf world.

Watson would be at least 15 years older than the 10 most recent captains. One of those was Watson, who captained the 1993 team at the Belfry, the last to win on foreign soil. The Americans won that Ryder Cup 15-13 and have just two victories -- in 1999 under Ben Crenshaw and 2008 under Paul Azinger -- since. Watson also would be the first repeat captain since Jack Nicklaus in 1983 and 1987.

In addition to Bishop's "outside the box'' comments, there is the connect-the-dots game. Larry Nelson, 65, whose name has come up as a possibility due to his three major championships and sterling 9-3-1 Ryder Cup record -- which included a 5-0 start in 1979 -- is scheduled to play in a Thursday morning pro-am at the Father/Son Challenge in Orlando. That would seem to preclude him from getting the job.

Others mentioned have been Azinger, who came up with the current plan of four captain's picks and the qualifying process now in use, and Fred Couples, who has gone 2-0 as Presidents Cup captain and is going to lead the U.S. team again in October at Muirfield Village.

Azinger has been active on Twitter, saying he expected the job to go to Toms or Nelson and calling for the PGA of America to anoint a committee of past captains and players to pick captains. That would seem to suggest that Azinger, who said in a text message he was never contacted by the PGA of American, is not in the running.

And while Couples, 53, would be popular with the players, his duties as 2013 Presidents Cup captain would seem to eliminate him. It is hard to imagine the PGA Tour and the PGA of America having the same person as captain at the same time.

So that leads to Watson, who on Sunday at the Australian Open was innocuously asked about his desire to captain the U.S. team.

"It would be pretty cool," Watson said. "It would be cool to be a Ryder Cup captain again -- '93 was the last time I have been to a Ryder Cup. I would like to go back again as a captain. That would be cool.

"It would be a great honor if I got tapped on the shoulder, I know that."

If it is Watson, he likely would be a more popular figure than either of the European candidates vying for the captaincy: Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke and Ireland's Paul McGinley.

"Obviously, if Tom does get it, he is one of the legends of the game," Clarke said at the Australian PGA. "I am sure he would be a fantastic captain, not just to the team but that whole aspect of the Ryder Cup. The man is a huge name in the world of golf and rightly so. I think he will make a fantastic captain for the Americans."

Watson is a revered figure in Scotland, having won four of his five British Opens at Carnoustie (1975), Turnberry (1977), Muirfield (1980) and Royal Troon (1982). He also played on four U.S. Ryder Cup teams that went 3-0-1, and he posted a 10-4-1 record. Watson also narrowly missed winning the 2009 Open at Turnberry in 2009, losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink at age 59.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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