For Watson, questions ahead of the Ryder Cup

Finishing runner-up to Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship may not have been what Phil Mickelson had in mind for his Sunday, but it nevertheless guaranteed him a place in the Ryder Cup as the US q

Finishing runner-up to Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship may not have been what Phil Mickelson had in mind for his Sunday, but it nevertheless guaranteed him a place in the Ryder Cup as the US qualification process finished at the end of the tournament.

That may seem like scant consolation on the back of missing out on another major championship, but the three-time Masters winner will know that his inclusion in the Ryder Cup team via a captain’s pick was not a surety.

His second-placed finish at Valhalla meant that Mickelson went from being outside the automatic qualification to fifth, thus sealing his ticket to Gleneagles and ‘Lefty’ will know that having failed to register a top-10 finish in 2014, he would have been somewhat lucky to receive a pick from Tom Watson.

Having Mickelson in team is undoubtedly satisfying for Watson as the 44-year-old can draw on the experiences of his previous nine appearances, where he has proven a pivotal member of the squad each time, forming part of a number of points-winning pairs over the last 20 years.

Mickelson has perhaps saved Watson from a few sleepless nights in the next couple of weeks although the latter still has plenty cause for concern regarding the make-up of his team. Tiger Woods, for one, is a name which has been flung about incessantly at every press conference Watson has held and he has yet to rule out the 14-time major champion’s involvement.

Who to choose

However, opinion is rapidly reaching unanimity that Woods should not be in the team because of form and fitness. Woods’ back problems show no immediate signs of healing and when he has played relatively pain-free this season, his performances have not exactly instilled a great deal of confidence for Watson.

As Gleneagles dawns, Watson will look at his team now and have cause for concern. Bubba Watson, who finished first in the standings, appeared uncomfortable and disjointed on his way to a 65th placed finish at the PGA Championship and has struggled to recapture the glorious form that brought him a second Masters title in April.

Patrick Reed is another who stumbled over the finish line as far as qualification goes as the 24-year-old has missed five cuts since taking the World Golf Cadillac Championship in March. The youngest player on the team, Jordan Spieth at 21, hasn’t exactly sparkled during the summer which will also be worrying Watson as he looks to assemble the strongest possible unit to prevent Europe from making it a hat-trick of victories.

Of course, arguably the greatest of Watson’s problems is beyond his or the players’ control, fitness. Woods’ fitness has obviously been scrupulously documented but there are other key members of the squad who may miss out due to injuries.

Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner were both forced to withdraw from the PGA Championship because of back and neck injuries respectively, prompting Watson to say his team were “falling like flies.” Dufner subsequently dropped out of an automatic place but, if he recovers from injury, he is a cast-iron choice for a pick.

External concerns

Watson has until September 2nd to come to a decision regarding who his three picks will be and will certainly need every minute possible as it always proves to be a remarkably problematic and strenuous process.

Keegan Bradley is an obvious candidate for one of those coveted picks. He performed valiantly at Medinah in 2012, winning all three of his fourball and foursomes matches while paired with Mickelson, meaning that Watson may seek to revive such a productive partnership.

It has been nearly two years since Bradley won on tour but he has notched up several high-placed finishes over the qualification process and finished 13th in the standings. Another one in the foreground of Watson’s mind is Ryan Moore, who finished 12th in the standings.

Moore has never appeared in a Ryder Cup but has shown consistency this season on the PGA Tour with seven top-10 finishes and may be deserving of a pick. Brandt Snedeker is another player who will be considered by Watson, as he played in the 2012 team and has recently started to show some form again.

Whatever happens in the next six weeks, it is likely to be a difficult time for Tom Watson. His current crop of players are struggling for form and fitness, he is plagued with questions about Tiger Woods and he faces the unenviable task of choosing three picks to finalise his team on September 2nd.

An early appraisal of the US team would be that they have a lot of work to do if they are to bring the Ryder Cup trophy back across the Atlantic and exact revenge for their meltdown two years ago.

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