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Presidents Cup tradition beginning to start

Appearances can be deceptive at the Presidents Cup, which pits a 12-man team from the United States against a line-up of international players from outside Europe.

It lacks the tradition of the Ryder Cup competition, on which it is based, and its atmosphere is certainly much more relaxed.

But when the fifth edition of this biennial event gets underway at the Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate outside George, South Africa, next Thursday, all 24 players will be fully primed for action.

"The atmosphere is generally laid-back and loose but when the competition starts both teams desperately want to win," said U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, who has represented the United States at the last two Presidents Cups.

"In 1998, I had a great time in Australia but maybe we had too much fun. We got our tails kicked over there.

"The last one in 2000 was perfect. We had a great time and we whipped up on them."

The United States, who won the 2000 Presidents Cup with a commanding 21-1/2 to 10-1/2 victory at Lake Manassas, Virginia, also clinched the first two editions in 1994 and 1996.

But the Internationals flourished the only time the matches were previously held away from American soil, hammering their opponents by 20-1/2 points to 11-1/2 at Royal Melbourne in December 1998.

Home advantage, therefore, has been a decisive factor in the early stages of this inter-continental showdown and the Internationals will be banking on that to spur them on at Fancourt from next Thursday.

"You can talk about the fans being more on your side and I guess there will probably be more international fans there than American fans," said Australia's Stephen Leaney, one of five rookies on this year's International team.

"I think the fans will make a big difference at Fancourt."

However three-times major winner Nick Price of Zimbabwe, who has featured in all four Presidents Cups for the Internationals, is expecting a tight encounter.

"We didn't play our best in 2000 and the Americans played superbly," he said. "A similar thing happened in 1998, only the roles were reversed.

"You never know what might happen next week but I'd expect a much closer match this time."

Both sides are fairly evenly matched, although the United States, as is so often the case going into their Ryder Cup showdowns with Europe, have greater strength in depth.

The lowest ranked U.S. player is Jerry Kelly, the world number 33, while the bottom three in the International team are Leaney (35), fellow Australian Peter Lonard (42) and South Africa's Tim Clark (68).

Although the Americans have seven players ranked in the world's top 20 to the eight of the Internationals, the U.S. team boasts an average world ranking of 16.16 compared to Europe's 20.75.

World number one Tiger Woods fronts the U.S. line-up with second-ranked Vijay Singh of Fiji spearheading the Internationals and both teams have five major winners to call upon.

One other factor which could suit the Internationals slightly more than the Americans is team work, in much the same way that the Europeans tend to feel they gel better than their U.S. counterparts at the Ryder Cup.

"I like my players to feel very comfortable with who they play," said South Africa's nine-times major winner Gary Player, who will captain the Internationals for the first time next week.

"I listen to them a great deal because they play with each other on the PGA Tour all the time and I go with how they feel. I will make suggestions but I want them to be comfortable with what I do."

Kenny Perry, who won two matches out of four for the U.S. in 1996, knows his team face a daunting challenge next week.

"On paper, the International team is probably stronger than the European Ryder Cup team," he said. "With Ernie (Els), Vijay, (Mike) Weir, Nick and Retief (Goosen), we're going to have our hands full."

Both sides, in fact, will have their hands full at Fancourt and the on-course atmosphere will be a lot less relaxed than it might appear.

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