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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Tom Watson knows what he's looking for - not who - to help America win back Ryder Cup

Posted: 02/11/2014 6:34 PM | Comments: 0

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - This is what Tom Watson knows about the American with a big lead in the Ryder Cup standings.

Jimmy Walker is 35.

He already has three PGA Tour wins this year. And his hobby is creating photographs of the galaxy.

"The first book I read was, 'All About Astronomy,'" Watson said. "If he makes the Ryder Cup team, maybe we'll have some common things to talk about."

Watson was at Riviera on Tuesday, even though he is playing this week on the other side of the country in a Champions Tour event. It's typical for Ryder Cup captains to make appearances on the PGA Tour throughout the year to meet with the media and keep their eye on potential players.

At 64, he is the oldest Ryder Cup captain in history. Some might be concerned that he is out of touch with today's best players.

Ten of the top 15 players in the U.S. standings have never played in a Ryder Cup. That includes Jordan Spieth, who was born just two months before Watson was captain of the last American team that won in Europe.

"It was good to sit down at breakfast and see some of the old faces, like Davis Love and David Toms, but see some of the young faces, as well," Watson said. "Had the opportunity to go down to the practice range and watch some of these guys try to hit it over that fence, which they have raised 30 feet up there. And it's good to be back on tour and to kind of get a little bit more knowledge of some of the players who might be on the Ryder Cup team."

Watson knows a lot more than he lets on. He realizes that there's still six months to go before nine players earn a spot on the team, and three weeks after that before he has to announce his three captain's picks.

Besides, he's more interested in the game than the name on the bag.

What stood out to him about Walker's most recent victory Sunday at Pebble Beach was not how a six-shot lead dwindled to one, or even that Walker made it tough on himself by knocking a 25-foot birdie putt some 5 feet by the hole to create more drama than he intended.

"What Jimmy Walker did this last week is what I'm looking for on that last hole," Watson said. "That's not an easy putt to make because that putt doesn't break. It just doesn't. You can play it right edge and it just hangs on the right edge. It doesn't break. And he made it. That's what I'm looking for, the guy that's going to make that 5-footer to win or to tie. That's what I'm looking for — the guts it takes to do that."

Watson's watched the last Ryder Cup at Medinah, and as much as he admired Europe for the greatest comeback ever by a visiting team, it ripped his heart out to see the Americans let another one get away. He's well aware that Europe was a combined 25-under par on Sunday, compared with 8-under for the Americans. And he probably knows that of the 13 matches that went the distance at Medinah, the Americans won the 18th hole just one time.

From his experience as a captain, making putts is out of his control. His job is to find the right players and the right combinations.

It's too early to figure out who is going to be on this American team, only that it will be difficult to earn one of the nine spots because the competition is deeper than ever. The American team is based on PGA Tour earnings, and the majors count double. Whoever wins the PGA Championship, for example, will earn roughly the same points as Walker has accumulated with his three wins.

"We've got a lot of golf between here and there," Walker said. "I don't remember this much talk about the Ryder Cup in the last couple of years. I don't know if it's because I haven't been on the radar screen or what, but it seems like it's a very big, pressing thing."

He is probably right. One reason for such an early focus on the Ryder Cup is the stark reminder that this team — both of them, really — might include some new faces. Is that such a bad thing? Experience hasn't exactly helped the Americans over the last 20 years.

"You're always going to have new players," Watson said. "They earn their way."

Walker is close. He is guaranteed points at three World Golf Championships, and gets his first taste of match play next week in Arizona. Harris English has won twice in the last nine months. Who knows how the next six months will go? Look at the number of "regulars" left off the last U.S. team at the Presidents Cup.

Watson was asked if it mattered whose names are on the U.S. bags at Gleneagles in late September.

"Does it matter? No, it doesn't," he said. "No, those players who get on the team are going to be the best possible players we can have on the team. That's the way I'm looking at it. If they perform, they will win."

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