Captain Watson’s first nine confirmed
While the culmination of the year’s final Major marked the latest chapter in Rory McIlroy’s already extraordinary career, it also heralded the end of the US Ryder Cup qualification process, with Captain Tom Watson’s first nine players now confirmed.
Phil Mickelson was the biggest mover in the final counting event of the two year process, jumping from tenth to fifth in the list thanks to his runner up finish at the US PGA Championship.
His form at Valhalla Golf Club saw defending Champion Jason Dufner fall out of the automatic places, a fact that was not helped by his withdrawal from the event in Kentucky during the second round, due to a neck injury.
As for the rest of the team that will line up at Gleneagles in a little over a month’s time, it remained as it was entering the week in Louisville, and Watson is very happy with how it is shaping up so far.
"I want to say that as far as the team is concerned, the nine players that have made the team, I'm wonderfully happy with them," said Watson. "I believe that each and every player has the ability to play great golf and compete at the highest level in The Ryder Cup.
"My job as a captain is to inspire them, if I can, and the motivation is there. I can tell you without hesitation that the motivation is there in each one of these players, as I've talked with them, I've been with them, I've played with them. Their comments to me, the conversations I've had about how they feel about The Ryder Cup have left it very clear that these players are motivated to the nth degree to win this Ryder Cup, and that's all I ask of them. That's all you can ask of a player.
"With that said, you look at The European Team, and yes, on paper they look stronger than the American Team. But our team, they have got that motivation from 2012 that I'm going to lay on them as I've said in the past. I think that's a great motivator."
Masters Champion Bubba Watson finished atop the list, while good friend Rickie Fowler assured himself of a second appearance in the biennial contest thanks to top five finishes in the season’s four Majors, with his tie for third this past week in Louisbville enough for him to qualify second.
Jim Furyk has not won in four years, but continues to be a US mainstay thanks to his consistent play, while three time victor this season – Jimmy Walker – is the first of the rookies to make Watson’s roster.
Next up is Mickelson in fifth, while the affable Matt Kuchar is next, thanks to his own consistent play and a title earlier in the season at Hilton Head.
Jordan Spieth is the second first timer to make the team, after his remarkable rise to the upper echelons of the game at such a young age, while WGC-Cadillac Champion Patrick Reid will join him in making a maiden appearance in Gleneagles.
Zach Johnson rounds out the top nine, in a team that is as interesting in its makeup, as it is for those who are missing.
Tiger Woods, hampered by injury this season, has been unable to force his way into the team, and will have to rely on one of three captain’s picks from Watson if he is to play in a ninth consecutive contest, while 2012 US PGA Champion Keegan Bradley will have to do the same if he is to rekindle his impressive partnership with Phil Mickelson from Medinah.
Former US Open Champion Webb Simpson has also failed to make the team as of yet, after he finished 16th on the rankings. He is surrounded on that list by a host of potential picks, all of which would be first timers, in the likes of Ryan Moore (11), Brendan Todd (12), Chris Kirk (14) and Harris English (16), who are players Watson will be keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.
"As far as my three spots are concerned, over the next three weeks I'll be very, very focused on the players who are high up in the ranks," said Watson. "And with that said, there's a factor that I look at most and that's the gut factor. The factor that, can that man play under pressure, can that man hit the shots under pressure. How do I know that? In getting to know these players, I'm getting an understanding from there, but I get an understanding from outside sources, as well.
"As far as Tiger is concerned, I will continue to speak with him over the next three weeks to monitor his situation. Obviously he has not been playing well, but I think it's been a result, as you well know, of his injury and his coming back from back surgery. Again, I will monitor his situation and be continually talking with him."
Plenty to think about then for Watson, who will announce his final three team members at a press conference on Tuesday September 2nd, at which point all 12 of his charges for Gleneagles shall be known.