124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Armchair Captain: Why did Tom Watson put a struggling Webb Simpson out first?

September 26, 2014

GLENEAGLES, Scotland -- Perhaps, we should start with another question: Why did Tom Watson make Webb Simpson a captain's pick in the first place?

We learned more about that story on Thursday as Simpson recounted texting Watson at 4:30 a.m. on the day the selections were announced and getting word of reassurance soon after. But it's looking like the eight-time major winner made the wrong, um, call after a disastrous first match by the 2012 U.S. Open winner.

Starting with the British Open, Simpson missed three cuts in his final eight events of the season and finished out of the top 20 in three others, including a T-23 in a 30-man field at the Tour Championship. Yet, on Friday, Watson chose not only to play Simpson, but to have him lead off for the U.S.


Adding to the typical pressure that comes with a Ryder Cup, Simpson went to the first tee knowing him playing poorly would produce more people questioning his presence at Gleneagles instead of a red-hot Billy Horschel or Chris Kirk. Simpson promptly popped up his opening tee shot -- the first official shot struck in competition this week -- about 190 yards and things didn't get better after that.

To be fair, partner Bubba Watson didn't play great, either, but Simpson particularly struggled with all aspects of his game on Friday morning, including butchering a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 11 after -- finally -- hitting a good approach shot. He and Watson lost 5-and-4 to Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, finishing two over as a team through 14 holes in the four-ball format and not winning a single hole in the match.

Captain Watson's decision was heavily influenced by this partnership's performance in four-ball at the 2012 Ryder Cup when they were on the positive side of two 5-and-4 results. But his questionable choice to play his unquestioned 12th man first this year backfired, and put the U.S. in a quick hole.

Of course, it could have been a worse start for the Americans if not for Watson's biggest gamble paying off. His decision to pair two Ryder Cup rookies, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, in the third match raised plenty of eyebrows, but the duo responded with a crushing 5-and-4 win against Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher. And with late rallies by Jimmy Walker/Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley, the U.S. led after the first session.