Debating the Kirk vs. Simpson pick


NEW YORK -- When the first nine members of the U.S. Ryder team were determined last month after the PGA Championship, captain Tom Watson told prospective Ryder Cup hopefuls that he was looking for hot players who emerge from the playoffs to use for his three wild-cards picks.

Yet on Tuesday night, Watson leaned mostly on the past to make his selections and fill out a 12-man U.S. roster that will be a decided underdog when the matches begin on Sept. 26 in Gleneagles, Scotland, against a European squad that has won five of the past six of the biennial matches.

For Keegan Bradley, it was his 3-1-0 record in the 2012 Medinah matches, including a 3-0 record with Phil Mickelson, that made the difference.

While Hunter Mahan recently won the Barclays in the first leg of the playoffs, Watson pointed to his performances in the WGC-Accenture Match Play, which he won in 2012 and finished second in 2013.

"Match play seems to be [Hunter's] forte," Watson said. "Some people, they don't shine in match play, but Hunter Mahan is that person."

Then there is the case of Webb Simpson, whom Watson settled on Tuesday morning after considering the former U.S. Open champion 's record at Medinah, where he went 2-2 in four matches, including a 2-1 record partnering with Bubba Watson.

Watson did a fine job of recounting the resumes and performance statistics of his three picks, but in doing so, he also underplayed the significance of the performances in the past two playoff events, something he promised to do after Valhalla.

Bradley and Mahan were reasonable picks. But Chris Kirk, off the strength of his Monday victory in Boston, should have gotten the nod for the third spot over Simpson.

During Tuesday's announcement, the 64-year-old, eight-time major champion seemed to place little value on Mahan's win at the Barclays.

Perhaps he did this to support his decision to leave Kirk off the team, who won the Deutsche Bank Championship after outplaying partner Rory McIlroy, the best player on the planet.

"That was a snapshot," Watson said of Kirk's win, not representative of much more than one week on tour.


Beating the winner of the past two major championships head-to-head on Sunday is a little bit more than a snapshot of his possible worth to the U.S. team.

It's unfair to compare Simpson and Kirk. The two players have different strengths and weaknesses. Simpson is a major champion with past Ryder Cup experience. In his past four starts, he has two top-10s and two missed cuts.

Kirk would have been the fourth rookie on the team if he had been selected. And the former University of Georgia star didn't do himself any favors by saying after his win that he wasn't entitled to a place on the team because he hadn't earned his way through the points race.

That sounds good in theory, but it's a lukewarm attitude to show to a captain who is faced with a difficult decision. Kirk should have been emphatic about his right to be on the U.S. team after his win at the Deutsche Bank.

Still, his play there should have been enough to make that point.

In the end, the biggest victory of Kirk's career wasn't good enough to make this U.S. Ryder Cup team. Watson's gut told him to go with experience and history -- mainly the couple of 5-and-4 wins that Simpson had with Bubba Watson in 2012.

That is Tom Watson's prerogative to pick his own squad. Leaving Kirk off the team was a difficult decision for him. But he could have made matters easier by rewarding Kirk for playing well on Monday at Deutsche Bank under intense pressure against the best players in the world.

Otherwise, he shouldn't have built up the first two weeks of the FedEx Cup playoffs as a tryout for Ryder Cup hopefuls when his decisions were predicated little on what happened on the golf course in the past year.