There was an unmistakable theme Tuesday night with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson’s three wild-card picks.
Live from NBC’s famous Studio 8H – the home of “Saturday Night Live” in New York City – Watson announced that Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson would round out the 12-man team that likely will be a significant underdog when the biennial matches are played Sept. 26-28 in Scotland.
Bradley, 28, seemed destined for a pick months ago. Though winless since August 2012, he recorded six top-10 finishes this season and possesses the kind of aerial attack that should play well at Gleneagles. Still fresh in many fans’ minds is Bradley’s spirited play alongside Phil Mickelson during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, when the duo combined to go 3-0 while energizing the crowd.
It still wasn’t enough for a U.S. victory, as the Americans saw a 10-6 lead disappear on the final day in one of the most dramatic finishes in tournament history.
“I made no secret of how important this team is to me, and how bad I want to go back and win the Ryder Cup,” Bradley said. “This is a redemption year for guys who were on the team (in 2012). It’s going to be an unbelievable trip over to Scotland.”
Mahan, 32, sealed his spot on his third team with his superb play over the past month, when he ran off three consecutive top-15 finishes, including a victory at the playoff-opening Barclays.
Plus, Watson said, “Match play seems to be his forte.”
Mahan is a former winner of the WGC-Match Play Championship, but he has scar tissue of his own. He was one of the central figures during the Americans’ last trip overseas in 2010, when in the final match against Graeme McDowell he stubbed a chip on the 17th hole to give Europe a one-point victory. He was left off the 2012 team.
“I think ‘redemption’ is going to be a strong word amongst all the players,” he said, before adding: “For some reason losing lingers. It hangs with you. It still bites at you a little bit.”
Like Bradley, Simpson was also part of the 2012 team in Chicago. The 29-year-old went 2-0 in four-balls with long-hitting partner Bubba Watson, the No. 1 points-earner for this year’s squad.
Watson admitted that the final decision came to him Monday morning, when perusing the results from the most recent matches.
“I had a revelation,” he said. “I said, ‘That’s gotta be the guy.’”
The list of disappointed players is a long one.
Bill Haas and Chris Kirk warranted serious consideration – Haas for his good standing with his Tour frat brothers, Kirk for his 11th-hour victory in Boston. Of the six multiple winners this season, Kirk, 29, is the only one who will not participate in the Ryder Cup.
“It was a difficult phone call to talk to Chris today,” Watson said. “He said, ‘Well, if there’s any consolation, just after I won a golf tournament I can take this bad news a little bit better.’ He took it like a man.”
Other players left playing the “what if?” game included Brandt Snedeker, one of the world’s best putters but a player who missed his last two cuts in the FedEx Cup playoffs; Ryan Moore, a decorated match-play performer in his amateur days and a winner earlier this season in Malaysia; and Ryan Palmer, who led both the PGA Championship and Deutsche Bank in the early stages.
With both teams now set, the U.S. (16.3) has the edge over Europe (18.6) in terms of the players’ average world ranking, but the home team (13) has collected more worldwide titles this year than the American players (nine).
Looking to give the U.S. side a spark, the PGA of America went outside the box with the selection of Watson, who turns 65 later this month. He was the captain the last time the Americans won on foreign soil, in 1993. The U.S. has lost five of the past six Ryder Cups, though each of the past two matches has been decided by one point.
“There are a lot of players starting to play well from the American side, and that’s a good thing,” Watson said. “We’re going to need it – the European team, on paper, is being touted as the favorites. But I have a fundamental belief in our team, and more importantly our players have a fundamental belief in themselves that they can go and win the Ryder Cup.”