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Tight-Knit International Team

GEORGE, South Africa -- All his Presidents Cup teammates have a true foreign flavor, coming from Australia and Africa, from Fiji and the Far East.
Mike Weir, a Canadian who grew up an hour outside Detroit, fits right in.
'Some of the guys on the U.S. team said, `Well, you should be playing for us. You live so close,'' Weir said. 'But I've never felt like that. I played most of my amateur golf in Canada, and I played against the U.S. guys.
'I've always felt like I was playing against them.'
The International team is neither a country (United States) nor a continent (Europe), rather a collection of guys from everywhere else who play under a contrived flag that consists of a trophy, 12 stars and three wavy lines of blue and gold.
What brings them together is a common purpose: Beat the Americans, even though several of the Yanks are their neighbors.
Bonding as a team is not a difficult task in the Ryder Cup because most of the Europeans grew up together in junior golf, travel together while playing the same tour and stick together when they come to the majors and other PGA Tour events.
Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk live nearby in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Tiger Woods is in the same neighborhood as Stuart Appleby outside Orlando, Fla.
The running joke about the Presidents Cup is that it features the United States against Florida.
Still, the camaraderie is high whenever the International team gets together every other year in the Presidents Cup.
Gary Player, a captain for the first time in these matches, noticed it right away.
'My team comes from all over the world,' Player said. 'It's been remarkable. Obviously, one has to emphasize the team spirit, and it's been so easy. They're oozing with it.'
During a press conference Tuesday with six International players, they whispered and laughed as a teammate spoke, cutting up like they were in high school.
Singh was asked a question and the giggles from his comrades came forth.
What was so funny?
'Some bright spot wanted to put him in charge of media relations,' Nick Price said.
The team held its first meeting Tuesday morning, and a South African journalist wanted to know about the key topic.
'When we talk rugby, Mike and K.J. (Choi) have to listen,' said assistant captain Ian Baker-Finch of Australia, whose team plays England in the World Cup finals Saturday. 'The other 10 boys know what's going on.'
Weir brought each of his teammates a replica jersey worn by the Canadian team that won the gold medal in hockey at the Salt Lake City Olympics last year, each with their names stitched on the back.
'There's 11 guys on the team that probably don't know a lot about ice hockey,' Finch said. 'That was kind of a unique thing.'
Stick a tee in the ground, and put them up against a couple of players wearing red, white and blue, and the laughter ends.
'We don't have a flag. We don't have a Stars & Stripes to play under,' Finch said. 'But we're a great team. It's going to be a tough team to beat.'
The Americans would not argue that point.
From captain Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods, they all concede this might be the best collection of players the United States has ever faced.
'They are, on paper, probably a stronger team,' Nicklaus said. 'I think the American team is quite good. Our guys know they have a lot of rough slugging ahead of them.'
The matches begin Thursday on the Links Course at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate, a piece of land Player converted into a links-styled course with huge mounds in the fairway and what appears to be an elephant graveyard on the greens.
'It's certainly got the look of a links off the tee,' said '97 British Open champion Justin Leonard. 'Some of the greens ... have a little more undulation than a lot of links courses that I've played.'
The United States, often accused of being 12 individuals instead of a team, appears to be just as tight. Four of them -- Woods, Charles Howell III, Jay Haas and Chris DiMarco -- arrived early to get ready for the matches.
The rest of them arrived Monday night and were still bleary-eyed while playing the course for the first time.
Still, there was plenty of banter on the course.
Phil Mickelson and David Toms, a good partnership at the Ryder Cup last year, played against DiMarco and Jerry Kelly.
Mickelson made eagle on the 591-yard ninth hole, only this time he didn't just tip his cap and give that aw-shucks grin.
'He's putting the needle in them,' Toms said.
'That's a shocker,' Woods said, rolling his eyes as he laughed.
All fun aside, the advantage figures to be on the International side. The only other time the Presidents Cup was played on foreign soil, 1998 at Royal Melbourne, the Americans suffered their worst loss in team competition, 20 1/2-11 1/2.
'I think we have a very good team. We're capable of beating the Americans, and we're excited about it,' Singh said. 'Just like Melbourne, first time we went overseas, we won. And I think we're looking forward to doing the same thing over here again.'
Related Links:
  • Meet the Teams
  • Full Coverage - The Presidents Cup
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