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Thomson to return as International team captain

Peter Thomson molded 12 players from seven countries into the first International team to win the Presidents Cup. Now he has a bigger prize in mind.

With a chance to beat the Americans on their home turf, Thomson has agreed to return as captain for the 2000 matches.

"Naturally, I'm excited," he told The Associated Press early today from Malaysia. "I said the Melbourne event was the highlight of my career. This will be a real test for the team.

"If the team can win in the U.S., we're on top of the pile."

After losing the first two matches at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia, the International team handed the Americans their worst loss ever in match play, 20½-11½, at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.

While players such as Greg Norman and Steve Elkington said during a beer-spraying celebration after the matches that they wanted Thomson to return as captain, the five-time British Open champion said only that he might consider it.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has spent the past few weeks polling international players, and Thomson was the choice. Gary Player also was considered, and he is likely to be the leading candidate should the Presidents Cup move to South Africa in 2002, as expected.

"I certainly didn't plan on this," Thomson said. ``But I said that if the team wanted me to do it, then I would."

The Presidents Cup began in 1994 and was patterned after the Ryder Cup to give foreign-born players outside Europe a chance to take part in match play. It will return to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club next year.

The PGA Tour announced last week that Ken Venturi, the CBS Sports golf analyst and 1964 U.S. Open champion, would be the American captain.

"I applaud that," Thomson said. ``I'm sure the U.S. could not have picked a better man."

Jack Nicklaus was the U.S. captain in Melbourne and had what Thomson called during opening ceremonies the "greatest collection of golfers in the world," from young lions such as David Duval and Tiger Woods to the experience of Fred Couples and Davis Love III.

But the International team, inspired by an emotional team meeting led by Thomson after its 1996 loss in Virginia, rolled to such a huge lead that it only needed to win two of the 12 singles matches on Sunday to take the cup.

Already this year, five players from that team have won on the PGA Tour -- Elkington, Vijay Singh, Stuart Appleby, Ernie Els and Carlos Franco.

"They got a lift of confidence," Thomson said. ``I'm not surprised because they're all good players."

The International team is determined by the world ranking, although Thomson said he expected Norman, Elkington, Singh and Nick Price to remain the foundation of his team.

He also said he expects the Americans to be hungrier for the next matches, especially after losing the cup for the first time.

The United States is now without either cup -- Europe has won the last two Ryder Cup matches, and will try to retain it in September at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

This will be the third time Thomson has served as captain. He was pressed into the job in 1996 after a player revolt that led to David Graham stepping down. He called last year's victory the "highlight of my career," partly because it was played in his native Australia.

The prospect of winning on American soil has Thomson just as enthused.

"I'm really looking forward to this. I'm thrilled," Thomson said. ``It will be huge if we win. It means the International team will be recognized as the top dog, bigger than Europe -- and bigger than the U.S., I suppose."