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Forget Santa Claus -- Tom Watson is watching

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Many times actors play sports figures.

This week, however, one sports figure will play an actor - Clint Eastwood.

The Eastwood, that is, who played a baseball scout in "Trouble With The Curve."

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Tom Watson - golfing legend and scout.

Fans attending the Greenbrier Classic will be treated to the familiar form of the 63-year-old as he makes the rounds with Ben Curtis and Ryan Palmer the first two days. The trio tees off at 1:10 p.m. from the Old White's No. 1 hole today.

But Watson has another job. One he's taking seriously. He's the Ryder Cup captain for the 2014 event at Gleneagles in Scotland. And jobs are on the line - even this week.

"I'm scouting," Watson said at The Greenbrier on Wednesday. "That's what I'm doing right now. I'm like a baseball scout. I'm scouting for talent.

"I'm scouting for players that may be on the Ryder Cup team. Those players should have two or three qualities. The first one is guts and heart. How they play in the wind. How they play in bad weather. Can they make that 5-footer every time when they have to? Can they hold a lead?"

Watson knows what he's seeking. He's won 39 PGA Tour events. He's played on four Ryder Cup teams and captained America to victory in 1993 at The Belfry in England. (If he needs help, he can call on new assistant Andy North, announced on Wednesday.)

"This week, I'll see a lot of players," Watson said. "I'll watch them on the practice tee. I'll watch their swing. I'll watch their fundamentals, their grip, how they set up and how they hit the ball. I've been watching a lot more PGA Tour on TV, I can tell you that.

"Also, you can see a lot by looking into a player's eyes. You can tell a lot about a player. I'll be watching their eyes."

Got that, young-uns? The eyes of Watson will be on you - and your eyes.

"I remember [in '93] I picked Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins," Watson said. "Two rounds were on a Saturday. Well, it was almost dark and I looked over at the practice tee and saw Raymond Floyd hitting balls off the practice tee after playing 36 holes.

"I walked over there and said, 'Raymond, what the hell are you doing?' He said, 'I had a thought about my swing and I had to figure it out. I'm just going to hit 15 shots.' Now that's what you like. That's what you want."

Twice during Wednesday's press conference, Watson looked over the Ryder Cup points leaders - Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Duffner, John Huh, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Billy Horschel, Hunter Mahan, Rickie

Fowler, Bo Van Pelt and Dustin Johnson - and smiled.

"That," Watson said before the presser, "would be a pretty good Ryder Cup team right there."

He said he'd like youth to serve so it can continue to in 2016 and beyond. He spoke of a few leading candidates, like Horschel - "with the exception of those octopus pants."

"We're already starting to form up our team," Watson said. "It's a process that doesn't form overnight."

Watson just wants to get this right.

"It's been way too long," he said. "We've lost seven out of the last nine and I don't like that. I know the players don't like that. It's time to change the tide."

The captain said the players would get a week off before heading to Scotland, which should help.

"I think it's a really good deal," Watson said. "Ryder Cup pressure is as great a pressure as you'll ever have in competitive golf. My job as a captain is being a stage manager. I'm there to set the stage. The actors go out and perform."

He was asked about the winning formula of '93.

"I've got a few tricks up my sleeve," Watson said. "I don't necessarily have to talk about them now, but I have a couple tricks up my sleeve. Maybe one of them will work.

"We're not going to have the luxury of all 12 players playing at their 'A' level. You just tell them to dig deep and get it done. We try to keep it light, let them blow off some steam and get out of their way."

He's seen some of the Classic's competitors doing so this week.

"Mr. [Jim] Justice has done a wonderful thing to get the tournament here," Watson said. "The course is tough, a little long for old guys like me. But it's a wonderful place to be. You see all the players with their families here. It's going to be a good week if we can stay away from the rain."

The week would also be better if Watson, the Greenbrier's pro emeritus, makes the cut.

"My game is in pretty good shape," he said. "I played pretty good last week [finishing tied for 27th in the Senior Players Championship], so we'll see what happens. There are certain holes I have problems with here.

"I have problems with hole No. 2, No. 13 and actually No. 15, the par-3. I have a hard time hitting the right club on that hole."

Vegas has Watson as a 300-1 shot to win the event. (Mickelson, by comparison, is 12-1.) But, hey, Watson has a lot on his plate as a player and a scout.

He should, though, be better than Vegas on handicapping this event, right? He's very familiar with the course. He's been scouting. So . . .

"That's a good question," he said. "The players that have been playing well, the guys who hit the ball high [should have an edge]. I like that on this golf course. The greens - even though they are soft - are hard. There's a firmness to them. The ball will skid a little bit, even if a little damp.

"The guys who can hit the ball high can stop it. Unfortunately, I can name about 50 players who hit the ball high, so I can't pick one."

Oh well. He's not playing Kenny Rogers in "The Gambler" this week.

He's Eastwood.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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