Go with your gut, captain Watson

GLENEAGLES, Scotland -- Tom Watson has forgotten more about golf in the last five minutes than I'll ever know, but the USA Ryder Cup captain did what Friday?

Well, for starters, he ended the morning four-ball session with a 2½ -1½ lead. So far, so good.

But then Watson made a curious decision. He benched the two guys who had stuck a very large American fork into the European team of Stephen Gallacher and Mr. Ryder Cup himself, Ian Poulter. Huh?

"Obviously you're going to second-guess me on that decision right there," Watson said at day's end.

USA rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth didn't just beat Gallacher and Poulter, they gravel-crushed them, 5 and 4. It was Poulter's first loss in his past eight matches. It was his worst-ever Ryder Cup loss -- not that he loses that often (now 12-4-0). And it cost the Europeans a point they (and the oddsmakers) thought would be theirs.

So, surely Watson would ride the Reed/Spieth momentum train to the afternoon foursomes matches. After all -- and this is according to Spieth -- Watson had said that the morning results would dictate who played later in the day.

"I was 100 percent certain we were going back out," Spieth said.


"They were very upset with me for not playing them this afternoon," Watson said. "I said, 'I know you're going to be mad at me, but you'll be playing [Saturday] for sure.'"

But Saturday isn't Friday. And Friday is when Reed and Spieth were on a streak. And, as Crash Davis says, you never mess with a winning streak.

It was a mistake by Watson. And it was a mistake even before Team USA failed to win an afternoon match and trailed 5-3 going into Saturday's play.

"I thought at the time it was the best decision not to play them," Watson said.

Fair enough. But what were the reasons for the decision?

"I won't go into those," he said.

"Huh?" squared.

And Spieth's understanding that the morning results would determine the afternoon pairings?

"I take the blame for that," Watson said.

Reed and Spieth plunged a stake through the heart of the best Ryder Cup player on the planet. So what if Poulter hadn't had a top-10 finish since June, or had missed the cut in three of his last six tournaments? He gets to the Ryder Cup and turns into Steve Rogers after the Super Soldier Serum injection.

Not Friday, he didn't. Reed and Spieth were the Poulter antidote.

The two rookies were actually 6 up after 11 holes and closed Poulter and Gallacher out on No. 14. It was the humane thing to do.

"I think everybody on the team wants Poulter, and we were able to have him first," Spieth said.

Don't you love it? They wanted to take down the guy who had taken down the USA so many times in the past. In fact, several USA teammates told Reed and Spieth they were jealous the rookies were paired against Gallacher and -- again, Spieth's words -- "the Ryder Cup wizard."

And remember, Reed turned off the TV in 2012 after watching Poulter make a fifth consecutive birdie to clinch the last Saturday four-ball match at Medinah. The victory merely inched the Europeans to a 10-6 deficit, but Reed somehow knew that Poulter had saved the day -- and Team Europe.

This time, there would be no Poulter heroics. Reed and Spieth quieted Poulter, quieted the pro-Europe crowds and ruined the Ryder Cup debut of the popular Scot, Gallacher. They gave the USA an unexpected point and an unexpected medium-sized controversy.

They were nervous, but in a good way.

"I could barely breathe on the first tee," said Reed, who was the first to hit. "I didn't know if I could pull [the club] back."

But Spieth is 21 going on Curtis Strange. He's tough. And Reed is 24, but confident enough to tell the world he was a top-5 player when he was ranked No. 20. If anybody could handle the situation as Ryder Cup rookies, it was Reed and Spieth.

Anyway, if Watson was willing to pair two rookies in the morning session, he should have been willing to take the plunge with them Friday afternoon, too.

"I felt like, in alternate shot, [Spieth] and I would have been great to go back out and take the momentum of what we just had done," said Reed, who putted as if his ball had GPS directions to the cup. "But at the end of the day, captain Watson, he picks pairings for a reason."

Reed said what you're supposed to say when you're a Ryder Cup rookie. He said what you're supposed to say when you're on a Ryder Cup team. They were good soldiers -- as they should have been.

But it isn't every day that you get two rookies, playing this well, at this tournament.

"Ryder Cup is very black and white," Poulter said. "It's very simple: You lose, or you win. ... But you know what? Things can change very quickly."

Exactly. Nobody played better than Reed and Spieth in the four-ball matches. They wanted to play together in foursomes. Why not, right?

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson also won their morning match 5 and 4, over Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. The European teammates didn't spend the afternoon as cheerleaders; they played, and won, again. They lost only three holes total and never trailed in either match.


Rookie Jimmy Walker played well in the morning match with partner Rickie Fowler. Together they scrambled back to get a half point against Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer. But did they deserve to play in the afternoon any more than Reed and Spieth? As it turned out, they halved their match against Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia after leading by 2 with two holes remaining.

And nothing against the pairing of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, who ground their way through 18 holes to beat Garcia and McIlroy, 1 up, in the morning session, but they were the logical choice to sit. And I would have said that even before they lost to Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell 3 and 2 later in the day.

Mickelson is 44, hasn't played especially well this year and was never going to play in all five matches anyway. He had just played 18 difficult holes in the morning cold. Why not give him the afternoon off and let Reed and Spieth have a go at it?

The Ryder Cup is a confluence of gut feelings, statistics and intuition. Watson wasn't afraid to play Reed and Spieth together (each originally was going to be paired with a veteran), wasn't afraid to play them early, and wasn't afraid when he saw they were playing Poulter and Gallacher. He gambled, and he won.

He should have doubled down.