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Unknown gets paired with Tiger Woods

The World Golf Championships often include players from faraway outposts who are only recognized by the name on their bag. Marc Cayeux doesn't even have that going for him.

``I've never heard of him,'' Tiger Woods said. ``No offense or disrespect at all. I just didn't know who he was.''

Woods only noticed his name because they are playing together the first two rounds of the NEC Invitational, which starts Thursday on the South course at Firestone.

To Woods, it will be just another face at another tournament.

It will be anything but that for Cayeux.

He has spent the last two years trying to support his parents, who both lost their jobs because of the political and economic climate in Zimbabwe. His mother returned to Britain to find work as a caretaker, then had to return home last fall when his father suffered a heart attack from the stress of unemployment.

``It sounds weird, but I can't wait to go back,'' Cayeux said. ``Home is home, no matter how bad it is.''

Cayeux was in Austria last week when he burned the inside of his left hand while lighting a barbecue grill, leaving an open wound the size of a nickel in the spot where he grips the club. He shouldn't be playing, but how many more chances will he get to play a World Golf Championship with its $7.5 million purse?

He was excited about making his first trip to the United States.

Then he learned he was playing with the world's No. 1 player.

``I couldn't believe it at first,'' said Cayeux, a burly 27-year-old with an easy smile. ``It's the biggest honor and the scariest thing at the same time. It's good in a way. But it's a pity my hand is the way it is. If I can't play my best, at least I want to enjoy the moment.''

But it can be intimidating at times.

Even at a tournament featuring 72 players from 22 countries -- from Jyoti Randhawa of India to Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand to Stephen Dodds of Wales -- Cayeux felt like an outsider in the locker room. He knows some of the South Africans, like Trevor Immelman. He met Adam Scott and Mark Hensby while paired with them at the Scandinavian Masters last month.


He is a star Cayeux has only seen on television, draped in a green jacket or holding a claret jug.

``I don't know what he's like,'' Cayeux said. ``Is he the type that you can walk up to in the fairway and have a chat, or does he like to be left alone? I admire him a lot. He's the youngest legend playing the game.''

Asked the most nervous he has ever been, Cayeux smiled and said, ``Tomorrow.''

``It's my debut in the United States, and I'm playing the world No. 1,'' he said. ``It's going to be tough to play with an injured hand, but all I can do is try.''

He already got part of the nerves out of the way Wednesday morning.

Cayeux put a small helping of eggs and bacon on his plate, then found an empty seat at a table occupied by Woods, Hensby and Sid Wilson, the tour's vice president of player relations. Woods and Hensby traded stories about players getting heckled by fans; Cayeux hung on every word and doubled over in laughter.

Wilson broke the ice by introducing himself, and the rest of the table followed suit.

``Nice to meet you, Marc,'' Woods said. ``Good to have you here, bud.''

Cayeux says ball-striking is the strength of his game. He describes his power as better than average, and his putting can be streaky, which might explain the 61 he shot in Johannesburg to win the Vodacom Tour Championship in South Africa to qualify for the NEC Invitational.

But it has taken some time to adjust to golf outside South Africa.

He missed 11 consecutive cuts in 2002 while playing Europe's minor leagues, then returned to the Challenge Tour two years later and won twice to earn his European tour card.

``I was more prepared the second time around,'' he said.

His dream is to make it to the PGA Tour, which he believes has the best courses, the best players, the most world ranking points, the greatest chance to succeed.

And success matters to someone when a paycheck affects his family.

He said his mother managed a BP gas station until the owner was told he had to give his business to the indigenous people, putting her out of work. His father was an electrician, but when the economy went sour, several companies closed and left him without a job.

Cayeux said foreign currency is outlawed in Zimbabwe, so the only way to help his parents is through a series of bank transfers in South Africa. The fuel shortage is so severe that his parents go 11 hours a day without power.

``It's pretty messed up,'' he said. ``I'm trying to look after my mom and dad.''

A good week at Firestone would go a long way, although Cayeux realizes he doesn't have the experience to contend against Woods, Vijay Singh, PGA champion Phil Mickelson or Retief Goosen. And it doesn't help that he can barely grip a golf club and swing it properly.

Hensby took one look and cringed.

``Man, you can't play with that,'' he said.

Cayeux shrugged.

He probably wouldn't play if it were any other week than a World Golf Championship, where last-place money is $30,000, and where he will spend the next two days with Woods.

``This is the biggest tournament of my life,'' Cayeux said. ``I've never played in a major championship before. This is like a major to me.''


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