RBC Heritage

Watson not at Harbour Town just to get in some rounds

sfastenau@islandpacket.comApril 17, 2014 

Tom Watson settled in his seat in the face of bright lights at his Wednesday news conference and talked about past years at Harbour Town Golf Links.

He remembers the tees a little closer, the greens a little slower and parties at The Quarterdeck.

But the 64-year-old did not return to talk about his Heritage titles in 1979 and '82. This is a business trip, with Watson working his second stint as Ryder Cup captain and playing the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing as schmoozer and scout.

"A-ha," a grinning Watson responded when asked about the underlying reason for his trip.

Watson will play with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth on Thursday and Friday. Spieth is fourth in the U.S. team Ryder Cup standings after his runner-up finish at the Masters last week.

The captain also had a chance to play nine holes with Patrick Reed, who is fifth in points. He spoke with points leader Bubba Watson at the Masters and had a chance to play with Jimmy Walker, who is second.

Watson plans to be at the Memorial, Greenbrier Classic, the British Open and PGA Championship.

"So I am doing what I am supposed to be doing as Ryder Cup captain and getting to know the players, getting to watch them," Watson said.

Spieth, who played in his first Presidents Cup last year, had scheduled a practice round with Watson at Augusta National Golf Club that was rained out. He will now play 36 holes of competition with the eight-time major winner and Davis Love III, the 2012 Ryder Cup captain at Medinah and assistant captain for the 2013 Presidents Cup team.

Spieth is fresh off a duel with Bubba Watson in a bid to become the youngest to win a green jacket. Masters contenders traditionally haven't fared well the following week, but Spieth will have reason to perform.

"A huge goal of mine has always been, my whole life, to make a Ryder Cup team," said Spieth, whose match play experience includes the Walker Cup and Junior Ryder Cup. "So playing with a captain, I'm sure there will be some extra nerves there trying to impress him."

Love saw the nerves when he watched Spieth at the Presidents Cup. Steve Stricker, after three holes with partner Spieth at Muirfield Village, approached Love and told him the 20-year-old Spieth was nervous.

"A year ago he wasn't even on Tour," Love told him. "Tell him a joke or something."

Love was in Watson's position two years ago, playing with the right people in practice rounds with a sharp eye on others.

Love said by this point in the year, he was talking with some of the big names on Tour and relying on what he knew from competing against many of the guys in the mix.

"I think Tom is making that shift into 'let's play golf,' rather than the organizational, structural stuff," Love said. "Now it's going to start getting a little bit more fun, more into what he's going to be really good at, is golf strategy and matching up the players."

Watson last played here in 2001, when he missed the cut. Pete Dye has since added length to some holes in an attempt to put driver in players' hands. And Watson said the greens appear less receptive to iron shots.

But the course is secondary to the job this week.

Watson was asked what might become the biggest question as the Ryder Cup draws closer: Will Tiger Woods, if he returns from back surgery but doesn't play enough to earn his way on the team, be one of Watson's two captain's picks?

"Tiger I just hope gets well and starts playing well again," Watson said. "If he gets well and is playing well, I'll pick him."

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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