Watson gives up one captain's pick for '14 Ryder Cup

Tom Watson was chosen as the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team for 2014.

Tom Watson was chosen as the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team for 2014.

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ORLANDO, Fla. –- In his first major decision as U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Tom Watson announced Wednesday that he will relinquish one of his four captain's picks for the 2014 matches at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Watson, 63, hinted at a December news conference announcing his captaincy that he would look at changing the selection process, saying that four picks might be too many.

“Giving our players one more opportunity to earn a spot on merit, I believe, is the right thing to do,” Watson said in a PGA of America news release announcing the move. “I will use all possible resources in choosing these three captain's choices to complete the best possible team in order to win the cup back for the United States.”

The concept of a captain being able to select players other than automatic qualifiers dates to 1979, the first year that Team Europe expanded beyond Great Britain & Ireland for the biennial matches against the U.S. The Americans didn't alter their qualification process to include a captain's picks until 1989, when Raymond Floyd selected Watson and Lanny Wadkins for the team.

From 1989 through the 2006, the U.S. maintained two captain's picks. After the U.S. went only 3-5-1 in those matches, 2008 captain Paul Azinger doubled his number of wild cards, to four. Azinger would captain the Americans to a stirring 16 1/2 - 11 1/2 victory in 2008 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., seemingly cementing the four picks as a mainstay of the U.S. teams. However, American losses in 2010 in Wales and 2012 at Medinah near Chicago prompted another change in strategy as the U.S. lead in the series slipped to 25-12-2.

“As a member of the team and with the attitude of, I want my team to win, whether I'm on the team or not, I would want him to have four captains picks, because I think he can make the team better,” Stewart Cink, a five-time Ryder Cup player, said during preparations for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “I remember being the 10th guy in my first Ryder Cup (2002), and I wasn't playing that well, and I probably wouldn't have picked myself. I would have picked somebody else instead of me, and we lost.”

In December, Watson referenced the fact that two-time Ryder Cupper Hunter Mahan, the ninth player on the final Ryder Cup list for the 2012 team, did not make the team and suggested it was an issue. Mahan didn’t think he was playing well enough at the time and if then-captain Davis Love III had only three picks instead of four, Mahan would have made the team.

“It takes a lot of pressure off the captain,” Mahan said of reducing the selections to three. “Four guys is a lot. It's a lot of guys to pick. There's a lot of different scenarios you can use. You can ask four people that might give you four different answers. So it takes the pressure off the captain.”

Mahan said any changes to the current Ryder Cup format are meaningless until the postmortem, which will occur when the final putt drops on Sept. 28, 2014.

“There's really no right answer unless you win, and then you did all the right things, and if you lose, you did all the wrong things,” Mahan said. “It's difficult. It's not an easy thing to be captain.”

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