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Presidents Cup

Tiger Woods paired with Fred Couples

Tiger Woods asked and he received.

Fred Couples will partner with Tiger Woods in the opening foursomes match at the Presidents Cup starting Thursday.

Woods asked to play with Couples, and U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus was happy to honor the request.

"I polled all my players and every one of them wanted to play with Tiger," Nicklaus said Wednesday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. "Tiger said he would very much like to play with Fred in a match. We're going to honor that the best we can. We'd rather have two guys who want to play together than put two guys who might not want to play together."

Unlike the Ryder Cup, where the draw is blind, the Presidents Cup allows the captains to take turn choosing the matchups. After International captain Gary Player nominated Retief Goosen and Adam Scott for the first match, Nicklaus matched them against Woods and Couples, a decision that pleased both captains.

"We want to get started with a win, we felt Tiger is the best player in the world, and Freddie's playing very well," Nicklaus said.

"I always thought I would like to see Adam and Retief go up against Tiger. That was always my plan, if possible," Player said. "I'm a believer, the first day, if you can create a bit of a shock and get up on that board, your team can look up and subconsciously it can encourage them. On the other hand, it's a gamble, because you're going against the best player in the world, which we all concede."

If history is any guide, Woods will be tough to beat. He has an outstanding foursomes record in the Presidents Cup of 5-1-0, while Couples is 2-1-0.

Nicklaus nominated Fred Funk and Jim Furyk for the second match, and Player replied with Vijay Singh and Mark Hensby.

"They wanted to play together," Players said when asked why he had teamed Singh and Hensby.

The other Thursday matchups are Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco against Nick O'Hern and Tim Clark; Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank against Peter Lonard and Stuart Appleby; Davis Love and Kenny Perry against Michael Campbell and Angel Cabrera and David Toms and Stewart Cink go out last for the U.S. against Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir.

It was interesting that both captains spoke of teaming players who wanted to be partners, unlike Hal Sutton's disastrous gamble at last year's Ryder Cup, where he put fierce rivals Woods and Mickelson together twice on the first day, only to watch them beaten both times.

"I want the guys to want to play in the Presidents Cup, not to say 'I played with a guy I didn't want to play with, or I got drummed and didn't enjoy it'," Nicklaus said. "I want them to have fun. It's entertainment, a goodwill match for bragging rights. After dinner Monday night they said they laughed more that night than the whole week of the Ryder Cup.

"I can't imagine they had a lot of fun at the Ryder Cup. They didn't play well, I guess, and they got drummed."

But there is more to foursomes pairings than compatibility. Players with similar style games tend to do better, as Nicklaus recalled from bitter experience. A long hitter, he once played with short but straight Dave Stockton in the Ryder Cup.

"We got drummed 6 and 5," Nicklaus said. "Stockton was not used to playing out of the rough and I wasn't used to playing 2-irons to par-4s. I enjoy playing with Dave but sometimes it doesn't work out."

The U.S. has won all three previous stagings of the Presidents Cup here at the Robert Trent Jones course, twice easily and one narrowly, but the International team seems to get stronger each time as the game becomes increasingly global.

After Thursday's six foursomes matches, there will be six fourball matches on Friday, followed by five foursomes and five fourball matches Saturday. The event concludes with 12 singles matches Sunday.


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