In his first big move since he was appointed U.S. captain last year, Watson said Wednesday he would take the top nine players off the Ryder Cup standings and select three players as captain’s picks. For the last three matches, only eight Americans qualified for the team and the U.S. captain had four picks.
“Giving our players one more opportunity to earn a spot on merit, I believe, is the right thing to do,” Watson said.
Paul Azinger was behind a major overhaul of the U.S. points system when he was captain for the 2008 matches. He based the standings on PGA Tour earnings instead of points assigned to top-10 finishes, put more emphasis on the current season the Ryder Cup was held and increased the picks from two to four.
The next Ryder Cup is in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland.
Americans can start accruing Ryder Cup points at the Masters next month. Only earnings from the majors count this year, and money from all PGA Tour events _ with an emphasis on the majors _ will count in the 2013-14 season that starts in October.
If nine players had qualified in recent years, Hunter Mahan would have made the team in 2012. Mahan was leading the points list in early April and then hit such a bad stretch of golf that he finished at No. 9 and was overlooked as a captain’s pick.
Anthony Kim missed three months of the 2010 season and slipped to No. 9 in the standings. He would have made the team under this system of three picks.
In 2008, Steve Stricker was No. 9 in the standings, though he was such an obvious captain’s pick that he was involved in choosing the other picks for Azinger’s team under the captain’s unique “pods” system.
“He was considering going to two picks,” Azinger said from his home in Brandenton, Fla. “I said, `It doesn’t matter if it’s four or two.’ In the end, it’s insignificant. The overall overhaul is still intact. You’re still getting the best Americans. For him to pick three players is just a preference.”
Watson, who will be 65 when the matches are played in Scotland, is the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history. He says he already has started paying attention to PGA Tour players and who might be on the team.
“I’ve watched a lot of golf on Golf Channel and the networks,” Watson said. “I know who Russell Henley is. I know Kevin … Streelman.” Henley (Sony Open) and Streelman (Tampa Bay Championship) are among five first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year.
“You’re starting to see players really surge right now,” he said. “Then you have the old stalwarts like Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods). They have got to step up to the plate as well and lead the team. That’s my job as captain, to get the right frame of mind for the team as they approach the Ryder Cup and during the Ryder Cup.”