Tom Watson returns as US Ryder Cup captain

Tom Watson feels right at home in Scotland.

The PGA of America is counting on that comfort level to break

its road losing streak in the Ryder Cup.

The last time the U.S. team won in Europe was in 1993, which

just happens to be when Watson served as captain for the first

time. That drought gave the PGA of America good reason to break

from recent precedent in selecting its leader for the 2014 Ryder

Cup at Gleneagles.

”It’s about time to start winning again for our team,” Watson

said Thursday at a news conference at the Empire State Building.

”That’s the attitude that I hope that my players have.”

Watson will be by far the oldest man to fill the role and the

first repeat captain for the U.S. since 1987. But he knows how to

win in the blustery conditions of Scotland.

The Americans have lost seven of the last nine Ryder Cups and

have not won away from home since 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.

Watson is the first repeat U.S. captain since Jack Nicklaus in

1987, when the Ryder Cup was played on his home course of Muirfield

Village in Ohio. Watson becomes the seventh American to get more

than one shot.

His selection received an immediate endorsement from Tiger

Woods. The Stanford alums have never been particularly close, and

Watson has criticized Woods for not showing respect for the game

with his demeanor on the course.

”I think he’s a really good choice,” Woods said in a

statement. ”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 went out of his way Thursday to praise Woods as ”the

best player maybe in the history of the game.”

”My relationship with Tiger is fine,” he said. ”Whatever has

been said before is water under the bridge. No issues.”

Watson breaks the PGA of America’s prototype in a big way. The

eight-time major champion will be 65 when the Ryder Cup is played

in Scotland. Sam Snead was 57 when he was captain in 1969, and the

oldest European captain was John Jacobs (56) in 1981.

Watson predicted that some would say: ”Why is Watson, being the

old guy, being the captain?

”I deflect that very simply by saying: `We play the same

game,”’ he said. ”I play against these kids at the Masters. I

play against them at the British Open.”

He does hope to play more PGA Tour events in the next two years

to spend more time around his future team.

Watson has not been back to the Ryder Cup since that `93

victory. But since then, he had been pining for another chance to

serve as captain.

With that familiar gap-tooth grin, Watson recalled his reaction

when the PGA of America first contacted him more than a year ago:

”Boy, I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time.”

As much as Watson is beloved around the world for his timeless

game, epic duels with 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.

”I think we will agree that he is recognized as one of the top

players under challenging conditions, and we certainly hope that

that’s going to translate to our team,” PGA of America President

Ted Bishop said.

Watson nearly made it six claret jugs three years ago. At age

59, he came within an 8-foot par putt on 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. His job will be to help the players handle the

pressure of the hostile crowd and the enormity of the moment.

The PGA of America broke from its model of taking former major

champions in their late 40s who still play on 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.

Bishop first thought of Watson while flying back from Bermuda

after the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf, when he read a book about

that near-miss at the British. When he first called, Watson was in

a field in South Dakota pheasant hunting.

A few blocks from Broadway on Thursday, Watson compared himself

to a stage manager with the job of putting his actors in best

position to succeed. He mentioned the importance of luck in winning

the Ryder Cup.

But he acknowledged that the good karma of his victories

overseas – and especially in Scotland – might be that little nudge

that returns the Americans to victory.

”It may give them a sense: `This guy has been there before and

he’s been successful before and we’re going to be a success because

he’s there leading us,”’ Watson said.

He expects he’ll help out in the most mundane of areas, such as

advice on how to adjust to the time change. At the 1981 Ryder Cup

at Walton Heath, Watson recalled, he cautioned Tom Kite not to

tweak his swing just because he felt lousy the first few days

there. Kite was glad he listened.

Watson dismissed talk that the Europeans were more motivated

than the Americans in recent years. What he heard from Davis Love

III, the captain at Medinah, was a team devastated by defeat.

AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.