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Players dealing with Ryder Cup after effects

Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald were unbeatable as a team again, and when they sat side-by-side before a room full of reporters, the Spaniard playfully leaned toward the microphone and began giving details of the match.

"First hole, we won with a birdie. Second hole, we halved with pars."

But this wasn't the Ryder Cup, rather a practice round at The Grove for the American Express Championship.

They won cash from Ian Poulter and David Howell, not a point for Europe.

Clearly, this week will require some adjustments.

"It's going to be tough to get the blood flowing as much as it was last week because the people in Ireland were amazing," Garcia said. "But we're here to perform, and try to do the best we can, and hopefully give ourselves a chance at winning the event."

The final World Golf Championship gets under way on Thursday at The Grove, an expansive estate north of London where 63 top players from around the world will play for a $7.5 million purse, with $1.3 million going to the winner.

Some players are dealing with a hangover, if not figuratively, then literally.

The Europeans partied into the night after an 18 1/2 -9 1/2 victory Sunday at The K Club, and in the true spirit of the matches, the Americans joined them. The unwitting suspect in all this turned out to be PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, whose suite was located directly above the European team room.

"We dozed off about 6 a.m.," Finchem said.

Reality returns to the individual side of golf on Thursday, that much made clear by the favorite to win.

It's an American -- Tiger Woods.

He is the defending champion of the American Express Championship, trying to win for the second time this year in England. The first victory came in July at Hoylake in the British Open, the first of five straight victories sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

This could be No. 6 in the winning streak, or No. 1, depending on how it is perceived.

Keeping track of records can get muddled when Woods travels around the world, so there was a debate Wednesday whether his winning streak was dead or alive. The answer was both.

"It ended two weeks ago," Woods said.

After five straight victories from the British Open in July to the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston the first week of September, Woods lost in the first round of the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth.

But that's a European Tour event.

"I'm going for six in a row on our tour," Woods said of the American Express Championship, which counts as official on six major tours as a WGC event. "But not six in a row tournament-wise, because I've played two since then and lost both."

The other loss was at the Ryder Cup, still a popular topic this week.

Woods also won six straight on the PGA Tour at the end of 1999 and the start of 2000, although he finished sixth in between that streak at the Johnnie Walker Classic, another European Tour event. That matched the second-longest streak on the PGA Tour, barely more than halfway home to the record not even Woods believes will be broken.

Byron Nelson, who died Tuesday at his ranch in Texas, owns the record of 11 consecutive victories in 1945.

"His record is still remarkable that particular year," Woods said. "His 12th event, he finished second, and then he won the very next one. So that's 12 out of 13, and the worst he finished was second. That's pretty good. And 18 (victories) in one year. I don't play that many tournaments, so I can't get to 18."

Asked whether 11 in a row was possible now, Woods said probably not.

"The competition is so much deeper now," he said. "Back in his day -- I actually talked to him about this -- he said he had to beat four or five guys every week. And when you're hot, that's not hard to do. That's not the case anymore. It's 40 or 50 now, so it's a lot different."

The World Golf Championships attract the best players from around the world. The criteria for this one is top 50 in the world ranking, and money leaders from the PGA, European, Australasian, Japan, South African and Asian tours.

Lee Westwood was hard-pressed to recognize that a World Golf Championship was at stake this week. It reminded him of Hilton Head, described by many as a working vacation because of the enormous buildup to the Masters, which is held the week before.

"Any time after something you've really built yourself up for, it's always difficult to get up the next week," he said.

Jim Furyk felt the same way.

"If I had my druthers, I would never play the week after a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup because it's an emotional high or letdown either way," Furyk said. "If you play well and the team wins and you have a great time, it's tough to get your thoughts back in it. If the team loses, you're in a grouchy mood."

Ah, but there's nothing like $1.3 million to cure any hangovers.

September 28, 2006


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