NEW YORK (Reuters) - United States captain Tom Watson, helped by a late “revelation”, opted for experience and form in choosing Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson as his wildcard picks for this month’s Ryder Cup against Europe.
Watson announced Bradley, Mahan and Simpson, all of them former Ryder Cup players, as his three selections during a glitzy news conference at Studio 8H, the home of ‘Saturday Night Live’, at Rockefeller Plaza.
The trio join automatic choices Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson on the 12-man American team.
”There were several people in the mix for my three picks,“ Watson said after the announcement. ”Experience was a big factor. All three (wildcard) players have either an even record or a winning record playing in the Ryder Cup.
”A lot of players are starting to play well from the American side and that’s a good thing. We are going to need it.
“The Europeans, on paper, have been touted as being the favorites and we are the underdogs but I have a fundamental belief in my team.”
The Americans will take on Paul McGinley’s European team, the holders, in the 40th edition of the biennial competition from Sept. 26-28 at Gleneagles in Scotland.
Bradley, 28, has won three times on the PGA Tour, including a first major crown at the 2011 PGA Championship, and was undefeated in Ryder Cup team play as a rookie after being paired with Mickelson at Medinah two years ago.
A passionate player, Bradley’s only defeat came at the hands of Rory McIlroy in the singles on the final day, when Europe staged an improbable comeback to retain the Cup.
“I’ve made no secret of how important this team is to me and how bad I want to go back and win the Ryder Cup,” Bradley said. “This is a redemption year for a lot of guys that were on the (2012) team.”
Mahan, 32, who made his Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla in 2008, missed out on selection in 2012 but returns to the team for a third time after winning his sixth PGA Tour title at The Barclays just nine days ago.
”That was a huge, timely win,“ Mahan said of his victory in the opener of the four-event FedExCup playoffs. ”I knew my game was coming around, I felt that things were right there.
“I had a calm, a great confidence, and I went out there and played well. That win was massive for the FedExCup and for the Ryder Cup team.”
Simpson, 29, has won four times on the PGA Tour, including the 2012 U.S. Open, and also made his Ryder Cup debut at Medinah. A rock-steady player, he has recorded two top-10s in his last three PGA Tour starts.
”I had a revelation this morning,“ Watson said before announcing Simpson as his third and final pick. ”I was cleaning up all these stats. The last one that was out there was the results from the 2012 Ryder Cup.
“I look down there and see Webb Simpson (winning in team play) 5&4, Webb Simpson 5&4 and I thought that’s got to be the guy. But the final decision on Webb, that was the toughest decision.”
Among the players to miss out on a wildcard pick were Chris Kirk, who made a late bid for selection by winning the elite Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Massachusetts on Monday, and 2012 FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker.
”That was a hard phone call to make,“ Watson said of Kirk. ”Even though he had a good tournament, you look at the long haul and I just had the feeling that the other three players were probably better suited for it.
“And adding one more rookie was probably not good for the team.”
Had Kirk made the team, he would have been the fourth U.S. rookie after Walker, Spieth and Reed.
The 2014 European Ryder Cup team, led by world number one McIlroy, includes four of the top-five ranked players, while the Americans possess arguably greater depth with nine of the top 20.
“We have the perception of being the underdog but we have some players who can play and are on the up-swing right now,” said Watson. “It’s the time for the U.S. to show what they’re made of and bring that cup back.”
The U.S. will be bidding to end a run of seven losses in the last nine editions of the Ryder Cup and looking for their first victory on foreign soil since 1993, when Watson was team captain at The Belfry in England.
Reporting by Larry Fine; Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue/Nick Mulveney