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Watson isn't out of the Woods yet

No Tiger, but U.S. team is hurting

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Tom WATSON is off the hook.

With Tiger Woods pulling himself from consideration for the Ryder Cup Wednesday night, Watson is relieved of the presumed pressure to pick the injured former world No. 1 because he's by far the biggest draw in the game and TV ratings do matter. There was always the risk of Woods showing up Sept. 26-28 at Gleneagles in Scotland and then not being able to physically perform. Just as there was the risk of Woods not being selected and the team collapsing.

Perception and pressure did not seem to matter to Watson. Earlier this week, Watson said, "I don't say this loosely. He's Tiger Woods," as he emphatically kept Woods in the mix for one of the three captain's picks. He added that the best player of this generation by miles still would carry enormous influence in the team room and on the course if healthy enough to swing a club.

But Woods isn't healthy. In a statement released by the PGA of America, which co-runs the Ryder Cup, he said, "I've been told by my doctors and trainer that my back muscles need to be rehabilitated and healed. They've advised me not to play or practise now. I'm extremely disappointed that I won't be ready for the competition. The U.S. team and the Ryder Cup mean too much to me not to be able to give it my best."

On paper, the U.S. squad isn't healthy, either. Of the nine who earned automatic berths, three have never played the blistering pressure cooker that is the Ryder Cup -- Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Rickie Fowler, who finished in the top-5 in every major this year, has played in just one. And Matt Kuchar pulled out of the PGA Championship with back spasms.

Meanwhile, Europe is loaded with four of the top-5 players in the official world golf rankings, including No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is on a Tiger-esque streak of his own, winning three events in succession -- two of them majors.

But Watson is not one to fret. He stared down Jack Nicklaus, for crying out loud, and has eight major championships on his resumé. And he's the last captain to win on foreign soil. Sure Watson would love to have a healthy Woods on the team. But this is a man who always has looked at the glass as half full, and he will play the underdog role to the max.

Plus he still has the likes of Steve Stricker, who he named a vice captain, Brandt Snedeker, major winners Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Brendon Todd, Chris Kirk and Jason Dufner to choose from.

So Watson won't be throwing in the white towel. He'll channel his inner Knute Rockne. He'll constantly be in the ear of his players reminding them of the pain at Medinah Country Club in 2012, when the U.S. lost for the fifth time in the last six matches. And he'll remind them that Europe, against the longest of odds, stormed back from a 10-4 deficit to win at Medinah.

Simply put, Watson will still inspire no matter what the odds say in the legal betting shops in Europe.

Just without Woods.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2014 C8

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