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Jeff Sluman takes over US Captains role

The rivalry which fuels the passion of the Ryder Cup is conspicuous mainly by its absence from the biennial competition between the USA and the International side known as the Presidents Cup, which starts today in South Africa.

Although both teams are keen to win, it’s difficult to imagine the competitors brushing aside a tear should they lose. If there’s an echo of the Harlem Globetrotters about this all-star contest, at least the prospect of Ernie Els, South Africa’s world No3, facing Tiger Woods in Sunday’s singles will add a much needed element of piquancy to an otherwise bland mix.

While the integrity of the Ryder Cup makes it impossible for the captains of Europe and America to arrange individual showdowns, the understanding that the Presidents Cup is a bit of matchplay fun has given Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus an opportunity to more or less fiddle the draw.

With Nicklaus confined to his bed with flu-like symptoms, US assistant captain Jeff Sluman, the former US PGA champion who has never played in a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup, finds himself in charge today.

"Jack looked at me at 3:30pm and said, ‘I trust your judgment. You know what you’re doing, you know the players,’" Sluman said. Matching the American players was not a problem as teams have been set for weeks.

"Gary and I, we’re captaining opposite teams, but we’ll be in a little bit of cahoots trying to make the best theatre out of this, too," Nicklaus admitted. "The game is far more important than the outcome of this match."

Nicklaus came out briefly during the final day of practice, standing weakly on the tenth tee as his final four players came through. He said the illness was probably from something he ate at the team barbecue.

The contest starts today with foursomes when it will be interesting to see how the formidable Ryder Cup pairing of David Toms and Phil Mickelson fares against major winners Nick Price and Mike Weir. Woods has a new partner in Charles Howell III in an alternate shot match against Stuart Appleby and KJ Choi.

Today’s foursomes (US pairs first, all times GMT):

1110: D Toms/P Mickelson v N Price (Zim)/M Weir (Can)

1120: C DiMarco/J Kelly v R Goosen (SA)/V Singh (Fij)

1130: D Love III/K Perry v P Lonard (Aus)/T Clark (SA)

1140: J Leonard/J Furyk v E Els (SA)/A Scott (Aus)

1150: J Haas/F Funk v R Allenby (Aus)/S Leaney (Aus)

1200: T Woods/C Howell III v S Appleby (Aus)/K Choi (SK)

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