In form England favoured for World Cup
In-form David Howell, winner of the high-profile Champions tournament in China on Sunday, and Luke Donald are firm favourites to retain their title at this week's 24-team WGC-World Cup.
Howell, who climbed to a career-high 13th in the world rankings after holding off Tiger Woods in Shanghai, and 15th-ranked Donald hold a numerical edge over Spain's Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Garcia, at number six, is the highest ranked player competing this week in Portugal while Jimenez lies 34th.
Ireland's Padraig Harrington (the world number 14) and Paul McGinley (20), the 1997 champions, are also strongly fancied, along with the U.S. team of Stewart Cink (25) and the 2004 PGA Tour rookie of the year Zach Johnson (49).
Donald, who won last year's title in Seville with Paul Casey, believes England are favourites only on paper and that this week's competition will be a close run thing between "at least five or six teams, and maybe even more".
He told a news conference on Wednesday: "I think we both come here feeling we have a good chance to defend, but there are some strong teams here.
"We're definitely not clear favourites, by any means, but I guess if you add both our world rankings together we might have the lowest number, so I guess that makes us favourites."
While Donald performed well enough this season to feature prominently in both the U.S. and European money lists, he failed to win a title in 2005.
Howell, however, is in prime form, his three-shot victory in China on Sunday his second European Tour triumph in the last three months.
"I'm full of confidence over the way I played last week, which is just ideal coming into a team event like this," he said.
Ryder Cup players Garcia and Jimenez are looking to go one better this week, having been squeezed into second place by Donald and Casey on their home ground last year.
"We thought we played well enough to win last year and being in Seville, in Spain, in our own country, it would have been wonderful to do it, with so many people following us," Garcia said.
"Luke and Paul just managed to make a couple more putts than we did. We're hopefully going to give ourselves a chance again, like we did last year."
Howell's opinion that this week's event will be "a birdie-fest" at the relatively new Victoria course was treated with some scepticism by the Irish pairing.
"If they put the pins close to the water and the wind gets up, it will be a tough test, so I don't know about a birdie-fest," said McGinley, who won the European Tour's season-ending Volvo Masters three weeks ago.
McGinley and Harrington were disappointed with their form in China last week, Harrington finishing 15th and McGinley a lowly 49th in a field of 74.
Both men spent time working with their coach Bob Torrance, father of former Ryder Cup captain Sam, at Sunningdale in England before they flew on to Portugal.
"I got a bit lost in China," said Harrington. "We went through the same old stuff, but you often need a little crutch."
McGinley, who expects huge support this week for the Irish duo on the Algarve, added: "We did four hours' work. This is a huge event and a real big deal for a small country like ours."
Germany were forced to make a late change to their side after Marcel Siem slipped on the bathroom floor in his Portugal hotel on Sunday. Replacement Christian Reimbold will partner Alex Cejka this week.
World Cup organisers have pitched the less fancied nations with the stronger teams in Thursday's opening round when holders England are scheduled to tee off in the final group with the Portuguese pairing of Jose-Filipe Lima and Antonio Sobrinho.
November 17, 2005
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