Kevin Garside: America’s Ryder Cup failings did not stem from the figures on Tom Watson’s birth certificate


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The Independent Online

Captain Paul McGinley was coupled with Nostradamus on Saturday night. His American counterpart Tom Watson was twinned with Grandad from Only Fools And Horses, an old duffer hopelessly out of touch with modern mores and without a clue how to respond to a desperate situation of his own creating. At least that is how the argument was presented by his persecutors.

This is what happens in a crisis. The instinct is to point the finger. Someone has to be to blame for the mess. And, sat on a stage on his own before an inquisitive media hungry for answers, Watson was an easy target. Let’s blame the old fella.

The fact that the United States arrived at Gleneagles having lost five of the last six Ryder Cup contests did not seem to matter. The anti-Watson tendency was more concerned with the creases cut into the face by time, the crow’s feet etched around the eyes. Clumsy expression was interpreted as evidence of slow wits and a lack of ideas. He was a man unfit for purpose in need of an afternoon nap.

Had Watson got it right in sitting out Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon, yesterday would have dawned a whole lot differently for both teams. The four-point chasm would have been a more bridgeable two-point gap. And Watson might not have been an old buffoon. Watson in fact made some bold, imaginative decisions, like pairing two rookies together on Friday morning. He took a lot of stick for resting them on Friday afternoon but how smart that looked when they eventually ran out of gas in the final session on Saturday, surrendering their 100 per cent record with a half against Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer.

It is amazing how much better an option Mickelson appeared when Jimmy Walker started to tire on Saturday afternoon, playing his fourth consecutive match. Watson admitted his error and his regret on Saturday night at not selecting Mickelson. He got it wrong. But that’s OK. What is not OK is to pin the error to his age. Young people cock things up too.

McGinley kept Rose out for a fourth session and almost paid the price. A birdie at the last to half the match with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed was suddenly confirmation of sound judgment. That’s why he is there, that sort of thing. What  if Rose had missed? Would McGinley be  the dope?

What if Mickelson had gone out with Bradley and lost, as they did on Friday afternoon? They were none too special in edging a tight one on Friday morning against the malfunctioning Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.

The truth is Mickelson is not playing well. He has not played well since winning The Open at Muirfield 14 months ago, only one top 10 in a year, a big one at the PGA Championship that earned him automatic qualification for the American team. But he was poor in the subsequent FedEx Playoffs and eventually withdrew to work on his game ahead of the Ryder Cup.

Bradley has been no great shakes either, picked by Watson as much for his performance at Medinah and the potency of his pairing with Mickelson two years ago.

The force had left them there. Walker had been arguably America’s most impressive player, holing out of bunkers, chipping in and sinking important putts. He tired but there was no previous evidence to suggest he would, and Rickie Fowler is inexhaustible.

There is also a committee of decision-makers in the shape of America’s vice-captains. If Watson’s thinking was so far removed from the money, they might have made that point. There was a consensus, but when it all unravelled that was conveniently ignored. It was all the fault of the 65-year-old.

Like the leader he is, Watson accepted the responsibility. Didn’t duck ownership of the plan. Watson was no more or less to blame than the next skipper. He got it wrong, but not because of the date on his birth certificate.

If you want to point the finger, how about at the PGA of America for believing that it was enough to bring back a historic figure on the grounds of his career achievements and what he represents to the people of Scotland. The cult of personality was never going to be enough if America’s golfers failed to produce on the pitch.

Observing from the first tee yesterday was Sir Alex Ferguson, who at 72 is seven years Watson’s senior and not too old to deliver the Agincourt speech to the European team on the eve of competition. He won his last title as manager at Manchester United at 70. No one ridiculed him for his age spots and rubicund nose.

It wasn’t age that did for Watson. Over three hard-fought days his players just weren’t good enough.