McGinley and Watson braced for slugfest

Ryder Cup captains Paul McGinley and Tom Watson at Gleneagles. Picture Fran Caffrey www.golffile.iePaul McGinley predicts it will be “a heavyweight contest from toe-to-toe from start to finish” but whatever about the boxing analogies, the Year to Go weigh-in was a draw on points at Gleneagles yesterday.

His opposite number Tom Watson was polished, as always, batting away questions about his age being a disadvantage for a contest which he last graced as captain 20 years ago.

The Ryder Cup has changed utterly since then and European has dominated, winning seven of the last nine contests.
Tom Watson. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ieBut while 65 year old Watson dominated the room at times with his presence and reminded us that a wounded US side will be looking to Tiger Woods’ star power to dazzle Europe, McGinley shot back with a quick jab that caught Watson in the ribs - and tickled his funny bone.

The Kansas City legend compared the Woods factor to the confidence he got from having Jack Nicklaus as his back up man during his Ryder Cup playing days.

“He became very much a part of the team this year, in talking to Davis, he was very much a leader, and we need him to be a leader.  There’s not a question about that.

“I don’t care who you are, if you don’t look up to Tiger Woods, what he’s accomplished in his career and say, I want to play like Tiger Woods, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Watson said.  

“He’s had the most remarkable career probably of almost any professional golfer in the history of your game.

“On the tee I heard several times ‘Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus’. That was a big deep breath moment. ‘God, I’ve got Jack Nicklaus on my six’ [o’clock],” Watson said, milking the moment.

He paused so long that McGinley couldn’t resist filling the silence with a little Irish irreverence.

“We’ve got Ian Poulter,” the Dubliner quipped, like a naughty schoolboy from the back of the class.

There was laughter from the audience - and Waston. But for all his chest-puffing about Poulter’s matchplay heroics at Medinah - a performance he compared to Liverpool’s Champions League final comeback from 3-0 down in Instanbul - the Dubliner reverted to type in his post press conference chat, insisting that nobody was an automatic pick.

“Ian Poulter is a special guy and what he did last year was incredible,” McGinley said. “Everyone has this impression of Ian being a William Wallace, walking around the team room and banging on the heart.

“I can assure you he is a very polished, observant member of the team. But I am not saying anybody is in the team. I am talking in the past and what he has achieved.

“I can assure you if Ian Poulter has a very poor year next year he won’t be in the team. But the chances of Ian Poulter having a very poor year are slim.”

Tom Watson and Paul McGinley expect another tight Ryder Cup match. Picture ©Getty ImagesMcGinley has gone out of his way to take the pressure off players to qualify, insisting he will only start talking to them when the team is taking shape next summer.

He points out - rightly - that Europe have been fortunate in recent years and squeaked home.

“The margin between the two teams is so slight,” said McGinley. “It has been for a number of years. And Lady Luck has shone on us at the right times in the last two Ryder Cups, and we have been fortunate to come out on the right side.
“There has been some wonderful play and great heart from our team at the right moments in time, but Lady Luck has always played a factor and we have been on the right side of Lady Luck.
“I think it’s going to be a very closely‑fought contest, and that’s what makes The Ryder Cup so special. We know it’s going to be, in boxing terms, a heavyweight contest toe‑to‑toe from start to finish.”

Paul McGinley. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ieWith players such as Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood , Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald, Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie all struggling to find consistency this season, he was still forced to admit that they will be favourites, but only with the bookies, next year.

“Any bookies will tell you that we are marginally favourites for the reasons that Tom gave,” McGinley said.  “We are playing at home; we have had great success over the last decade in winning, and that’s going to give us that little bit of an edge when it comes to the bookies, and I have no reason to argue with that.  But the point I’m making is that …

“TOM WATSON:  The bookies can be wrong, though.

“PAUL McGINLEY:  Particularly Irish bookies are right on the money (laughter). To be honest.  The margin between the two teams is so slight, the point I’m trying to make is, I would agree that, yes, playing at home is definitely a significant advantage.  It probably does put us just ahead in terms of slight favourites but it’s very, very marginal.  I think it’s a big heavyweight contest and that’s the way it should be.”

Form will only become a concern for McGinley next summer but Watson has work to do before that with a sit down with Woods close to the top his agenda.

He has been critical of Woods’ behaviour in recent years - the multiple extra-marital affairs as well as his on-course behaviour.

In a 2010 TV interview with a Kansas city TV station, Watson said: “His golf is really secondary at this point. From his standpoint and his family’s standpoint, it’s something he needs to get control of … and make some amends and show some humility to the public when he comes back….

“His swearing and his club-throwing, that should end. That’s not part of what we want to project as far as the professional golf tour is concerned.”

Apart from the form of his top players, McGinley has another issue to worry about - the timing of the wildcard announcements.

The European Tour has decided to make the announcement the day after next year’s Italian Open, September 1.

That’s Labour Day in the US, which falls on the final day of the Deutsche Bank Championship.

McGinley will have to make his decision before the tournament ends. But he told the Daily Mail’s Derek Lawrenson: “I can talk to them on the night before the final round and tell them what’s happening, it is not a problem.”

As the Mail points out: “Say he is torn between two in-form players for one wild card, with both in contention. Imagine if he goes for the man who shoots 76 in the final round over the man who wins the event? It will be interesting to see if he has a rethink, and asks for a day’s grace.”