By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Team chemistry or an elite player? That is the question facing United States Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III as he considers the merits of twice Masters champion Bubba Watson for his final wildcard pick.
Based on his first three selections announced on Monday, Love has perhaps already decided against the brilliant but unpredictable Watson, and will opt instead for an uncapped player such as Ryan Moore or Daniel Berger.
World number seven Watson, renowned for his booming drives and creative short game, has played in the last three Ryder Cups and would be the third-highest ranked American if selected for this month’s matches against holders Europe in Minnesota.
However, the 37-year-old is viewed by many pundits as a risky option, and his putting could end up being his Achilles’ heel.
Though he would add experience and a resume that includes seven PGA Tour titles along with his two Masters green jackets, he would also bring a reputation for being high maintenance with a tendency to let his mind wander, both on and off the course.
Watson was the most notable omission when Love named his first three captain’s picks – Rickie Fowler, JB Holmes and Matt Kuchar – on Monday, having missed out on automatic qualification by just one spot.
Love will announce his final wildcard selection on Sept. 25, after the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, to round out his 12-man team, and he is widely expected to look beyond Watson.
“What would happen if Bubba Watson won at East Lake? Is that what he has to do to get the pick?” Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo said on a conference call on Tuesday to preview the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup.
“It’s obvious his (Love’s) mind is on something else. He is looking at the other 11 members of the team … where you’re trying to cement the chemistry and persuade the other 11 guys to roll the dice on a younger guy, a Kevin Na, a Daniel Berger.
“The assumption there is Bubba has done something wrong,” said New Zealander Nobilo who won 15 professional tournaments globally, including once on the PGA Tour.
Englishman Nick Faldo, a veteran of 11 Ryder Cups as player, initially pleaded the case for Watson before citing the merits of Moore, a standout amateur who has won five PGA Tour titles.
“If those are the names, between Bubba and Na and Berger, you’ve really got to go with Bubba because he’s been there, he’s got the experience,” Faldo said on the same conference call.
“As long as he’s got the chemistry for somebody to play with him. That’s the issue, I think. Who wants to partner with him?
“Ryan Moore? Wow, that man can putt. The Ryder Cup, as we know … you’ve got to keep knocking in those four, eight, 10-footers or whatever.”
For fellow Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, Watson’s biggest vulnerability is his putting.
“Statistically, Bubba would be the worst putter on the team,” said Chamblee. “He’s almost the worst putter on the PGA Tour. I couldn’t imagine making that pick.
“I would go more with a Ryan Moore, who’s got a wonderful history in match play. Or I would look towards youth and power and form in a Daniel Berger.
“I really wouldn’t be looking anywhere else besides those two players unless something pretty surprising happened at the Tour Championship.”
Watson has also been surprisingly mediocre on the PGA Tour this season since winning the Northern Trust Open in February and finishing second at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in his next start, failing to record a single top-10.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)