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US Team Takes Firm Aim at Victory

GEORGE, South Africa -- The photo on the front page of the Cape Times sent a strong signal to captain Jack Nicklaus that the Americans were not taking this Presidents Cup lightly.
There was Tiger Woods, dressed in shorts and sneakers, hitting balls on the range two days before the U.S. team was scheduled to arrive on the Links Course at Fancourt.
'We have two great teams that both want to play well and want to do well,' Nicklaus said Tuesday. 'I know that when I see that Tiger Woods showed up early, and Charles Howell III, Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas.
'They all four were here a day before anybody was supposed to be here to play the golf course and get ready for it. You knew they wanted to play well.'
The Presidents Cup has always featured two of the best teams in golf.
The only other time it was played outside the United States, it seemed only one of them wanted to play well.
The Americans suffered their worst defeat ever in team competition, 20 1/2-11 1/2, five years ago at Royal Melbourne in Australia.
Most of them complained about having to travel so far with the holidays approaching. Some players spent the days leading up to the matches shopping online for gifts.
Now, they know what's in store for them - an International team that Nicklaus called the favorite, a links-styled course with humps and mounds from tee to green, and thousands of people pulling for the other side.
'When we went to Australia in '98, we did not play our best,' Phil Mickelson said. 'So, we're looking at it as a real challenge for us to bring out the best game and put up good matches. We very much want to keep the cup.
'We've only lost it one time. We'd like to keep it that way.'
The '98 Presidents Cup was played two weeks before Christmas, and a month after the PGA Tour season ended.
Nineteen players from both teams were in the season-ending Tour Championship just two weeks ago. Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk arrived Monday night after tying for fifth in the World Cup at Kiawah Island, S.C.
'We're going to give a much better effort,' Davis Love III said. 'This time, it's closer to our golf season. In Australia, it was a strange feeling playing that kind of a big competition that far away from the season.
'Hopefully, we can do a better job for Jack than we did last time.'
It still might not be that simple.
The Links Course at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate was designed by International captain Gary Player and only opened three years ago.
Ernie Els, who has a summer house along the beach, is the only player who knows it well. The rest might feel as though they have been taken back in time four months to the British Open at Royal St. George's.
'You're going to get some funny bounces out here,' Nicklaus said.
The fairways have so many humps and mounds that they seem better suited for a motocross bike race, or perhaps a freestyle skiing moguls' competition if the Southern Cape ever got any snow.
The rough is thick, and not difficult to find.
During a practice round Monday, Woods hit a drive that carried a bunker and appeared to be perfect. Only when he got to his ball on the par-5 13th did he notice it was in the shaggy grass. Woods proceeded to step off the width of the fairway.
It was 10 yards at the narrowest point.
'The fairways are very fast, very undulating,' Woods said. 'You've got to really make sure you've got your lines right off the tee because some of the bunkers are pretty high, and you can get blocked out easily.'
Some of the greens have more contours than Augusta National, and the 18th green features a 4-foot shelf.
'Your second shots into the greens are quite tricky,' Els said. 'They are very undulating, and you can't really get the ball to stop on the first bounce. It's a tough course.'
More daunting than the course is the International team.
Els has won seven times around the world this year and is inspired by playing before a home crowd in the biggest golf tournament South Africa has seen.
Vijay Singh is playing better than anyone in the world, having just won the PGA Tour money list with four victories and 18 finishes in the top 10. Masters champion Mike Weir skipped the World Cup so he would be fresh for the Presidents Cup.
Plus, the International team has strong memories of Australia.
'I'm more excited playing this time around than I've ever been,' said Singh, who along with Nick Price has played in all five Presidents Cup matches. 'I think we have a very good team. We're capable of beating the Americans, and we're excited about it.
'Just like Melbourne, first time we went overseas, we won,' he said. 'And I think we're looking forward to doing the same thing over here again.'
He shouldn't expect the Americans to roll over this time.
But if the International team wins back the Presidents Cup, don't expect any excuses from the Americans. This time, they can't say they didn't care.
Related Links:
  • Meet the Teams
  • Full Coverage - The Presidents Cup
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