ATLANTA — Tom Watson didn’t appear to be kicking himself.
On the day after Billy Horschel posted his 12th straight round in the 60s, won his second straight tournament against a world-class field and picked up an additional $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion, Watson was kicking back in his seat at a Kansas City Royals game. The 65-year-old Ryder Cup captain wore a Royals cap and a constant grin as he watched Omar Infante work the count to 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
These questions will follow Watson and his American team to Gleneagles next week for the Ryder Cup: Does he wish he could have Horschel on his team? Should the deadline to make his selections have been pushed back?
It makes for an easy — if not lazy — narrative. Hindsight allows for that.
Horschel not only won the final two FedEx Cup playoff events, he beat the top qualifier from each Ryder Cup team — Bubba Watson at Cherry Hills and Rory McIlroy at East Lake. It was McIlroy who said at the Tour Championship, “I’m sure Tom Watson is kicking himself at the minute.”
Adding to the debate is that Horschel was runner-up in the event that preceded his back-to-back wins. Tiger Woods is the only other player to have two wins and a runner-up finish in the FedEx Cup. Then again, Horschel is not Tiger Woods.
Watson made his wild-card picks after the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Horschel was in prime position to force a playoff with Chris Kirk until he chunked a 6-iron so badly on the par-5 18th hole that it landed in the front of the hazard protecting the green. No one would have suggested Horschel as a pick the next day.
So why was the deadline set so early for the picks?
Remember, for years the American captain made his selections the day after the PGA Championship, six weeks before the Ryder Cup matches. Thanks to Paul Azinger, the U.S. captain now gets an extra three weeks to find the hot hands.
Why not extend it through the Tour Championship? If that’s the case, why not wait until the final week to determine the entire team? This is not about uniforms, programs or any propaganda. This about a team, one that should know who is on the side with ample time to prepare leading to the matches. Four straight playoff events caused enough fatigue as it was.
Besides, would anyone be talking about an early deadline if McIlroy, Jim Furyk or Jason Day had won the Tour Championship?
And who’s to say Watson would have taken Horschel even if he could have waited? Watson said he was looking for the hot hand and still passed over Kirk the day after his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Watson was looking for experience.
He wanted Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson all along. He would have preferred Brandt Snedeker as the third pick, except that Snedeker missed the cut at both playoff events.
Hunter Mahan, who has played on two teams, won The Barclays and became an obvious selection, and then Simpson won out over Kirk.
As good as Horschel looks now, how can anyone project how he would have played in Scotland?
Two years ago, Snedeker looked like a great captain’s pick when he won the FedEx Cup. He went 1-2 at the Ryder Cup. Snedeker wasn’t at his best that week. He blocked a tee shot on the 18th hole that led to bogey in foursomes and cost the Americans at least a half point. On the final day, he bogeyed three straight holes against Paul Lawrie and suffered the worst defeat of any singles match.
Woods was a captain’s pick in 2010. He was coming off the upheaval in his personal life, split with his swing coach and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship. He had gone seven straight tournaments without a top 10, and he failed to break 70 in 19 of his last 25 rounds.
Woods went 3-1 at Celtic Manor, his best Ryder Cup performance.
Horschel will be cheering from home. His big finish will put even more scrutiny on the captain’s picks than they already have. And that will lead to another round of hindsight, unless the Americans can find a way to win.
Maybe it was a good sign that the Royals rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win Monday night.
As for Infante? He struck out swinging.
Doug Ferguson is the golf writer for The Associated Press.