Karl MacGinty: Tom Watson bigger gamble than 'rookie' Paul McGinley
But Dubliner relishing chance to pit Ryder Cup wits against legend
TOM WATSON, at 63, is a golf legend and a gentleman. Yet neatly concealed behind his charm is a man of steel.
Watson may appear avuncular but he's still as sharp as a cut-throat razor, as he proved by getting within one stroke of the greatest Major championship victory of all time at the 2009 British Open in Turnberry.
European captain Paul McGinley has no hesitation in admitting that Watson, his opposite number at September's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, has been his golfing hero since boyhood.
Given the opportunity to shake Watson's hand and look him squarely in the eye as an adversary, the Dubliner was delighted to note the hard glint of the warrior he always knew lay within this eight-time Major winner.
Asked to put what he perceived into words, McGinley said: "A competitor, the most ferocious competitor. There's an edge. He's got an edge. He won't give an inch and I know that. I don't have a problem with that; in fact, I'm kind of relishing it."
It's a special intensity. One which McGinley compares favourably to that of a renowned former Nottingham Forest, Manchester United and Republic of Ireland footballer.
"Tom Watson and Roy Keane would have a great conversation, wouldn't they?"
However, McGinley, already making an impression as a thorough, businesslike, clued-in yet still passionate Ryder Cup captain, no longer indulges in hero worship.
And he certainly has no desire to engage in deeper analysis of the American captain or his team.
"I know Tom Watson is perceived one way and I'm perceived another," he explained. "I'm not going to be able to change that.
"I'm not going to try and compete with Tom Watson and what he's achieved or his status in the game. I'm not going to go there.
"Put my playing record up against Tom Watson's and it pales into complete insignificance. Yet this is not Tom Watson playing golf against Paul McGinley. This is a battle of leadership and captaincy against Tom Watson. It is not played with golf clubs.
"Ultimately, it's not really about the captains. We make the decisions but he or I could play a blinder as a captain at Gleneagles and our team still could lose. It's all about the 24 that are playing.
"You talk about the American team," McGinley went on: "I promise you this, my sole concern is with what we do. I'll observe what the Americans do but I won't be obsessed by it."
As for the deeper nuances of America's decision to ask Watson to lead their team at Gleneagles, the Irishman insists: "I honestly do not consider it to be any of my business. I'll say no more than that."
Obscured by the excitement of McGinley's appointment as Ireland's long-awaited first Ryder Cup captain is the calculated gamble the PGA of America have taken with Watson, who led the US to their last win on European soil at The Belfry in 1993.
He is more general than captain, a figure of authority at a slightly further remove from the current generation of Ryder Cup players and less likely to engage in captaincy by consensus, a feature of recent regimes.
Davis Love, though universally acknowledged as capable but unlucky at Medinah in 2012, stirred a strong reaction in US corridors of power when he revealed that his singles line-up that fated Sunday "was a reflection of what I've been telling the players. It's their team. Basically, I let them pick it".
Even assuming Watson and Tiger Woods set aside the veteran's stinging criticism three years ago of the World No 1's on-course behaviour, the most intriguing question hanging over the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles is if a team of gifted individuals will rally to or rail against their captain's authoritative call.
Watson is a great man but his appointment certainly represents much more of a gamble than that of 'rookie' skipper McGinley.