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Internationals set out to improve Presidents Cup record

An International squad boasting nine of the world's top 18 players gathered here Monday to begin practice sessions for the Presidents Cup, confident of beating their US rivals for only the second time.

Workers put the final touches on Royal Montreal Golf Club as players took to the course under cloudless blue skies with just a touch of fall color in the leaves, perfect conditions for what promises to be a dramatic showdown.

World number one Tiger Woods and his US teammates own a 4-1-1 record in the team match-play event, but the Americans have never beaten the non-European side off US soil as they prepare to defend the trophy starting Thursday.

"We have a hell of a strong team but we've had a terrible record," said 18th-ranked Trevor Immelman of South Africa. "Hopefully our big guns can be ready and lead the way for us."

The Americans lost at Australia in 1998 and played a memorable 2003 draw at South Africa, Woods and home-nation hero Ernie Els battling to darkness in a playoff before a stalemate was declared.

No. 5 Els was hurt for the 2005 rematch in Washington, won by the hosts 18 1/2-15 1/2, but returns alongside No. 6 Adam Scott of Australia, No. 8 Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, No. 10 K.J. Choi of South Korea, No. 11 Geoff Ogilvy of Australia and No. 12 Vijay Singh of Fiji.

Add No. 17 Retief Goosen, his countryman Immelman, US Open winner Angel Cabrera of Argentina plus Canadian star Mike Weir and Aussies Nick O'Hern and Stuart Appleby and global captain Gary Player's team has reason for confidence.

"Gary has a very strong team," US captain Jack Nicklaus said. "We know we've got a good team against us but I know we've also got a bunch of good players on our side who are very proud to play for their country."

Woods, who won his 13th major title last month at the PGA Championship, won his 61st PGA title two weeks ago at the Tour Championship, capturing the first US PGA playoff's 10 million-dollar top prize as well.

US players are still excited to play the Presidents Cup despite a long run of rich US events because of the chance to play for Nicklaus, whose 18 career record major titles remain the goal Woods is focused on surpassing.

"Players have kept an eye on the Presidents Cup because we all want to be on Jack's team," Woods said. "It helps who our captain is. You want to play for him and you want to be on his team."

Despite the draining schedule, Woods expects a high level of play this week at North America's oldest golf club as well as aggressive pairs play in foursomes and four-ball matches over the first three days.

"Being in a team atmosphere, especially when you have a partner, guys pull off shots that they normally don't by themselves. I think that's the beauty of having a teammate there," Woods said. "You can be more aggressive."

US veterans Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker are just behind Woods in the world rankings but 14th-ranked Masters winner Zach Johnson is the only other American in the top 20.

The US team also includes David Toms, Steve Stricker, Stewart Cink, Charles Howell and PGA Championship runner-up Woody Austin, who at 43 is a global team debutante like US captain's choices Lucas Glover, 27, and Hunter Mahan, 25.

"Woody is fiery. He's competitive," Woods said. "You need someone out there who will get out there and give his best, give it everything he's got, give his heart and soul in each round. He will certainly enhance the team."

Nicklaus hopes youthful passion can counter veteran savvy.

"Gary will have a little bit more advantage on the experience side but hopefully we'll be able to match that with some enthusiasm," Nicklaus said.

There are 34 points at stake with six foursomes matches Thursday, six four-ball matches Friday, five of each on Saturday and 12 singles matches on Sunday. No player can sit out more than one Saturday session.

Individual singles matches that are all square after 18 holes are played to conclusion until one team has clinched victory.


September 25, 2007

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