By Tony Jimenez
LONDON (Reuters) - Having local fan favorite Tom Watson as Ryder Cup skipper at Gleneagles in September will take a lot of pressure off Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the United States team, according to vice-captain Andy North.
The 64-year-old Watson won eight major championships in a glittering playing career including five British Opens, four of them in Scotland.
"I think there's an advantage for us in that Tom is so beloved in Scotland," North told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
"I truly believe that a lot of the pressure will be off the players because everyone, especially the media, will want to talk to Tom.
"That's not always been the case with an American captain and Tom's going to have a very important part to play in that he will be spending so much time doing interviews and stuff," added North who will be a vice-captain with Ray Floyd at the Scottish venue.
"It won't take all the pressure off but if, as a player, you know you'll have 15 or 30 minutes less time dealing with the press every day that's 15 or 30 minutes more you can focus on other stuff like practising."
Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner and Patrick Reed occupy the automatic qualifying places in the U.S. team for the Sept. 26-28 match against holders Europe.
If multiple major winners Woods and Mickelson continue to remain outside the top nine, it is almost certain they will be picked as two of captain Watson's three wildcard selections when the final 12-man lineup is announced after next month's U.S. PGA Championship.
North is also hoping that former major champions Zach Johnson (U.S. Masters), Keegan Bradley (U.S. PGA) and Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) can force their way into the side.
"There are a few players that you'd really want that competitive fire from," said North, a golf analyst for ESPN who will be providing comprehensive coverage of next week's British Open at Hoylake.
"Zach is one of those guys, Keegan is another. These players are tough mentally and they give it their all, all the time.
"They're outside the top nine now but that could change in the next couple of weeks," said 1978 and 1985 U.S. Open winner North.
"Webb is another example. He had a great week last week and made a whole bunch of qualifying points in the final round on Sunday," he added, referring to Simpson's third-place finish at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.
North acknowledges, however, that the Americans face a tough task in wresting the trophy away from Paul McGinley's European team who have won seven of the last nine editions of the biennial event.
"The Europeans will be playing at a course they know well, a course where they play a regular tour event (Johnnie Walker Championship), so that's a big advantage," said the 64-year-old American.
"The way they have dominated the Ryder Cup in recent years you have got to say they are the favorites.
"From our side we are going to try and change that but the wonderful thing about this event is there will be 12 great players on each team and that will make for a great competition."
(Editing by Toby Davis)
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- Tom Watson
- Tiger Woods
- Bubba Watson