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Civility the rule as Presidents Cup tees off in Virginia

Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

  International captain Gary Player, right, talks with U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus following the final practice for the Presidents Cup Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005, in Gainesville, Va. AP Photo/Kevin Wolf

International captain Gary Player, right, talks with U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus following the final practice for the Presidents Cup Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005, in Gainesville, Va.

AP Photo/Kevin Wolf

GAINESVILLE, Va. —There is plenty of history at this Presidents Cup, mostly the monuments and landmarks around the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and the roadside markers that tell about key moments from the Civil War.

These matches are mostly about being civil.

''This is a game. That's all it is,'' U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said. ''It's not a war.''

The reference was to the Ryder Cup, which took on a life of its own over the last two decades with marketing ploys such as the ''War on the Shore'' and the ''Battle at Brookline.'' It made the Ryder Cup one of the marquee golf events in the world, but brought along plenty of acrimony.

That's hard to find at the Presidents Cup.

As the sun rose over the trees behind the driving range Wednesday morning, Fred Couples was loosening up with a few wedge shots when he realized his grips were too smooth.

Standing behind him was Brennan Little, the caddie for Mike Weir of Canada.

''You want some sand paper?'' Little said.

''Yeah. Do you have some?'' Couples said, then realized he had fallen for a trick. ''Oh, I get it. There's a Home Depot down the street, right?''

Both laughed, and Little headed inside to get the sand paper.

''You're on the International side, and you're helping me out?'' Couples said, feigning incredulity.

Later in the afternoon, Nicklaus and International team captain Gary Player sat at a table with their assistants next to them to talk about the first session of pairings Thursday. Player's assistant is Ian Baker-Finch, who pulled out a stack of 5-pound British notes with Nicklaus' image on the front.

''Jack, I've got 100 5-pound notes. Can you sign them for me?'' Baker-Finch said.

''Now?'' Nicklaus replied. ''I've got nothing better to do.''

Turns out he only had 18 bills, but Nicklaus sat at the table and scribbled away until it was his turn to talk.

And how's this for everyone getting along?

Tiger Woods walked off the first tee with Butch Harmon at his side. Harmon was there with Couples, with whom he has worked the last two years; Woods and Couples will be paired in the first match Thursday afternoon against Adam Scott and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.

The Presidents Cup once was described as the United States against a bunch of guys from Florida, which is only a slight exaggeration. Most players from the International team (every country but Europe is eligible) have homes in the United States and play primarily on the PGA Tour.

They see each other just about every week. Vijay Singh lives a mile or so away from Jim Furyk and Fred Funk in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. They will be opponents Thursday, with the Furyk-Funk team taking on Singh and Mark Hensby of Australia (who lives in Arizona) in the second of six alternate-shot matches.

But don't get the idea this is a hit-and-giggle affair, a team event in which no one cares who wins.

''Just because the match is friendly doesn't mean that it can't be intense,'' Furyk said. ''These matches have always had a great spirit to them. We all have a lot of pride. If one side is going to win this week, you can bet that one of us is going to be crowing a little bit, all winter, talking about the matches.''

There was more confusion than crowing the last time.

The Presidents Cup ended in a bizarre tie two years ago in South Africa. After four days left the teams at 17-all, Woods and Ernie Els played a nail-biting playoff that lasted three holes and more pressure over par putts than either had faced in the 11 majors they have won.

When it was too dark to continue, Nicklaus and Player agreed to a tie. But when Nicklaus gently reminded Player that the United States would retain the cup because it was defending champion, the International team revolted.

They agreed to share the cup, leaving a score to settle this time around.

The advantage goes to the Americans.

Both teams have an array of stars —most agree that the International team is stronger than anything Europe can offer in the Ryder Cup —but the Americans have dominated on their home course at the Presidents Cup. They are 3-0 at RTJ, and five years ago turned the biggest rout in the short history of this event, winning 21 1/2-10 1/2.

One reason might be that a more civil atmosphere makes the Americans more relaxed.

''Our team tends to be a little more loose,'' Furyk said. ''We have a little bit more fun during the Presidents Cup.''

The Presidents Cup still has its moments.

Woods still gets bent out of shape over his match five years ago against Singh, when the Fijian's caddie wrote ''Tiger Who?'' on the back of his cap. Most people got a laugh out of it, especially because it was clear the United States was going to win handily.

''At the time, I certainly didn't appreciate it,'' Woods said. ''I thought it wasn't real respectful. I know he tried to do it in fun, but I didn't take it that way. I went out there and beat him, 2 and 1. So that's my response to it.''

Woods and Singh likely will play against each other in Sunday singles, because captains fill in their lineups one at a time and they try to create entertaining matches.

Singh said it was no big deal, and time to let it go.

''I think the issue was in 2000, and it's 2005 now,'' he said. ''It's five years away and it's gone. I think I've forgotten about it as everybody else has but you guys. So let's just forget about it.''

After all, this is a civil affair.

Presidents Cup Pairings

Thursday

At Robert Trent Jones Golf Club

Gainesville, Va.

Yardage: 7,335; Par: 72

Foursomes

9:10 a.m. —Tiger Woods and Fred Couples, United States, vs. Adam Scott and Retief Goosen, International.

9:20 a.m. —Fred Funk and Jim Furyk, United States, vs. Vijay Singh and Mark Hensby, International.

9:30 a.m. —Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMaraco, United States, vs. Nick O'Hern and Tim Clark, International.

9:40 a.m. —Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank, United States, vs. Peter Lonard and Stuart Appleby, International.

9:50 a.m. —Davis Love III and Kenny Perry, United States, vs. Michael Campbell and Angel Cabrera, International.

10 a.m. —David Toms and Stewart Cink, United States, vs. Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir, International.

—All Times ADT



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