Tom Watson returns as Ryder Cup captain

NEW YORK — The Americans are bringing back Tom Watson as their Ryder Cup captain with hopes of ending two decades of losing in Europe.

“We’ve got the right guy to lead our team,” PGA of America president Ted Bishop said Thursday morning during a short segment on the “Today” show to introduce the new captain. A press conference was planned later Thursday in the Empire State Building.

Watson faces a tall order.

The Americans have lost seven of the last nine Ryder Cups and have not won away from home since 1993, when Watson was the captain at The Belfry in England. They are coming off a staggering loss this year at Medinah, where Europe strung together a remarkable rally from a 10-6 deficit going into the final day to win by one point.

The selection of Watson received an immediate endorsement from Tiger Woods, whom Watson has strongly criticized because of Woods’ behavior on the golf course.

“I’d like to congratulate Tom Watson on his selection as Ryder Cup captain,” Woods said in a statement. “I think he’s a really good choice. Tom knows what it takes to win, and that’s our ultimate goal. I hope I have the privilege of joining him on the 2014 United States Team.”

Watson had said Woods needs to “clean up his act” in the months after Woods’ personal life fell apart after being caught in multiple extramarital affairs, though the Stanford alums have never been particularly close.

Watson breaks the PGA of America’s prototype in a big way. The eight-time major champion will be 65 when the 2014 Ryder Cup is played at Gleneagles in Scotland, making him the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history. Sam Snead was 57 when he was captain in 1969, and the oldest European captain was John Jacobs (56) in 1981.

Watson has not been back to the Ryder Cup since that `93 victory at The Belfry, though he sounded like he couldn’t wait to get started.

“I was waiting for about 20 years to get the call,” Watson said with that familiar gap-tooth grin. “I loved it the first time. I’m a great fan of the Ryder Cup. It’s a great honor to be able to do it again.”

Watson is the first repeat captain for the U.S. team since Jack Nicklaus in 1987, when the Ryder Cup was played on his home course of Muirfield Village in Ohio. Watson, one of the most respected figures in golf worldwide, becomes the seventh U.S. captain to get more than one shot.

The matches being held in Scotland contributed to Watson’s selection. As much as he beloved around the world for his timeless game, epic duels with Jack Nicklaus and graciousness in any outcome, the Scots consider him one of their own. Watson won his first major at Carnoustie in 1975 when he quickly understood how to play links golf. He won five British Open titles, the most of any American, with four of those in Scotland.

He nearly made it six claret jugs three years ago when at 59, he came within an 8-foot par putt of the last hole from winning at Turnberry. Watson missed the putt, and then lost to Stewart Cink in a playoff.

The ovation he heard that week in Turnberry might be different at Gleneagles.

“They’re going to be cheering against me,” he said.

The PGA of America went away from its model of taking former major champions in their late 40s who still play the PGA Tour and are in touch with the players. Watson last played a full schedule in 1998, though the PGA of America had to wonder if perhaps the young captains were too close to the players.

As for the pressure of bringing back the Ryder Cup?

“I’ve lived for that pressure, and lived underneath that pressure all my career,” Watson said. “I hope I can set the table for these players. I’m the stage manager. I set the stage and they go out and perform. In two years, I hope they can get it done.”

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