Golfing Greats Gear Up for Cup

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GEORGE, South Africa -- Eight players are among the top 20 in the world. Six have won on the PGA Tour this year, including a major championship.
 
One guy has earned the most money. Another has won the most trophies.
 
It sounds like another stellar group of Americans who will be favored to win, as they have been in team competition for the last 75 years.
 
The Presidents Cup is different.
 
It doesn't have the history or hype of the Ryder Cup, only the best collection of golfers in the world. Many of them are on the International team.
 
'They're the favorites on paper,' Davis Love III said, rare words coming from an American.
 
Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Masters champion Mike Weir lead an International team that will try to win back the Presidents Cup in its first venture to South Africa.
 
It's new territory for the fledgling Presidents Cup, which has been played overseas only one other time -- Australia in 1998 -- since it was created in 1994 to give foreign players born outside Europe a chance at team competition.
 
'It's a terrifically balanced match,' U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said. 'It should be a heck of a competition. I think it will be a blast. I just hope it turns out that we win.'
 
The Americans are coming off a lopsided victory three years ago in Virginia (21 1/2 - 10 1/2), but motivation comes from a couple of fronts.
 
For starters, the Presidents Cup is all they have left.
 
The United States lost to Europe in the Ryder Cup last year. Two months ago, the European women whipped the Americans in the Solheim Cup. Unless this U.S. team brings back the trophy, it will be the first time ever the Americans did not hold any of the professional cups.
 
'As far as I'm concerned, the only two cups that I have an opportunity to make an impact is the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup,' Jim Furyk said. 'I want to keep a hold of the Presidents Cup.'
 
If the last road game is any indication, it won't be easy.
 
The International team handed the Americans their worst loss ever in team competition, 20 1/2 - 11 1/2 at Royal Melbourne, with Nicklaus at the helm.
 
They complained about playing the matches too close to the holidays, about having to travel so far at the end of a long season, about the Presidents Cup not being as meaningful as the tradition-rich, passion-filled Ryder Cup.
 
'Most of us had not been playing a lot,' Love said. 'We brought friends to caddie for us. We'd never take a new caddie and say, 'Hey, this new Ryder Cup will be fun. Why not come along?' We didn't treat it like the Ryder Cup.
 
'And the mistake most of us made was we didn't put enough emphasis on the fact Jack Nicklaus was our captain.'
 
The Americans have already shown commitment in one area: They're going.
 
When word first leaked that the matches were headed for South Africa, some players said they might stay home.
 
'I didn't want to go,' Tiger Woods said. 'We had just come back from Australia. We got beat. No one was in a good mood about the Presidents Cup, and that was still two Presidents Cups away at the time.'
 
For the United States not to send their best might have been a crushing blow to the Presidents Cup.
 
Els and Nick Price of Zimbabwe, who lobbied for the tournament to go to South Africa, never pressured any of the players. Instead, they quietly challenged the Americans to help generate interest in golf globally, just as Price and Els have done throughout their careers.
 
'It would have been a sad day for golf if some self-centered person had decided not to go,' Price said.
 
Nicklaus gathered his potential troops together in late May and gave them the option of staying home.
 
No one did.
 
The Links Course at Fancourt, a resort on the Indian Ocean, already is buzzing about what Els believes will be the biggest sporting event of the year in the nation of 41 million. He took his daughter for a visit last month and could feel the excitement building.
 
'They all wanted to know if Tiger was coming,' Els said. 'As you know, he can make or break an event.'
 
Els was never too concerned about Woods showing up. They share a common friend in Nelson Mandela, the former South African president expected to be at Fancourt.
 
Woods visited briefly with Mandela when he was in South Africa in 1998 for the Million Dollar Challenge and said he was the greatest man he has ever met.
 
'If I decided not to go, I'm sure I would have gotten a phone call from him,' Woods said. 'How can you not do anything for that man?'
 
Now it's time for Woods to do something for his country.
 
He is joined by Love, Furyk, David Toms and Kenny Perry, among the top performers on the PGA Tour this year. The Americans have four players who have never played in any cup -- ranging from 24-year-old Charles Howell III to 46-year-old Fred Funk.
 
And Phil Mickelson remains a question mark. Lefty failed to win this year for the first time since 1999, and he never seriously contended on the back nine at any tournament.
 
The International team counters with Singh, coming off his first PGA Tour money title; Els, who has won seven times around the world; and Weir, who treats the Presidents Cup almost as seriously as he does the majors.
 
Retief Goosen, Stuart Appleby and Adam Scott also won PGA Tour events for the International team, which is strong from top to bottom.
 
'It's got to be closely contested, just like the Ryder Cup,' Price said.
 
The Ryder Cup has 16 team matches -- alternate shot and better ball -- over two days, and Europe has been known to hide its weaker players. The Presidents Cup requires everyone to play -- six matches Thursday, 10 on Friday, and six matches Saturday before the Sunday singles.
 
Price believes the two cups already have one thing in common.
 
'I don't think they want to lose, just like us,' he said, referring to the U.S. team. 'Second place is no good at the Presidents Cup. This would be a wonderful one for us to win.'
 
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