Players 'dropping like flies' as injuries hit Tom Watson's Ryder Cup team
Non-playing captain Tom Watson may have to bring his clubs as Matt Kuchar fights back spasms and Jason Dufner struggles with neck pain
At the rate American stars are getting hurt, Tom Watson might become a playing captain when his US Ryder Cup squad try to reclaim the trophy from Europe next month.
Sixth-ranked Matt Kuchar, already set for the roster based on qualifying points, withdrew before the start of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club with back spasms.
Dustin Johnson had been set for a spot before announcing last week that he would take a leave of absence to the end of the year, with a Golf.com report saying he tested positive for cocaine and was set for a suspension, which the PGA Tour has denied.
And defending champion Jason Dufner lasted only 10 holes before walking off the course because of neck pain that has nagged him since the Masters.
Add the struggles of 14-time major champion Tiger Woods with back surgery in March and a withdrawal last Sunday owing to back spasms, and it seems like the Americans will be lucky to have a healthy 12-man roster for the September 26-28 showdown at Gleneagles, Scotland.
Watson helped his cause on the eve of the year's last major by naming 23rd-ranked Steve Stricker, 47, as an assistant captain. He could be called on to play as an injury replacement any time before the Ryder Cup opening ceremony.
"All these guys are dropping like flies on our team. It is a bit scary," Stricker said after a first-round 69. "It doesn't bode well for us, but there are a lot of good players still, and guys are still jockeying for position to try to make that team."
What Watson will have to do is figure out who to choose as his three captain's selections on September 2 after seeing who makes the team on points after tomorrow's final round of the 96th US PGA Championship.
"There's time," Watson, 64, said. "What's going to happen between now and then is anybody's guess. I have to take the information I have, process it and see what comes out."
He joked with Stricker on Thursday, saying in the wake of so many US troubles that Stricker "better get your clubs ready". Stricker needs a high finish to make the team on points.
Watson is watching to see who handles the tension this weekend. "Who performs under pressure - that's what I'm looking for," Watson said.
Already assured of spots on points are Masters winner Bubba Watson, 2013 PGA runner-up Jim Furyk, US and British Open runner-up Rickie Fowler, Jimmy Walker and Kuchar, while Jordan Spieth is all but assured a place.
The other positions are held by Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson and Dufner, but hot on their heels are five-time major winner Phil Mickelson and former PGA champion Keegan Bradley.
Mickelson has vowed to make the squad on points rather than be a captain's choice.
Watson has said he would select Woods if he was healthy.