MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Ernie Els knows what Royal Melbourne can do to a golfer, probably more than anyone.
Els was a member of the International team that won the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and had three straight wins on the Alister Mackenzie-designed course at the Heineken Classic.
His last came in 2004, when he missed a chance at a magical 59 by one stroke in the opening round and nearly squandered an eight-shot lead in the final round before eking out a win over Adam Scott.
Els says he’ll “take it personally” if the United States, led by captain’s pick Tiger Woods, win the Presidents Cup again when play begins Thursday.
“I’ve had some great tournaments here in the past, a great win in ‘98 for our team,” Els said Tuesday. “It’s always nice having some experience winning on it.”
Els also finished second in the Heineken in 2005, the last tournament that was held at Royal Melbourne, which also coincided with Els’ last visit to play Down Under. The memories from the course, and particularly from 1998, are still vivid.
“We jelled very well as a team,” Els said. “I remember watching us play on the 18th hole, seeing some really big shots pulled off by the team, some amazing chip-ins. That was a really a great factor, we got the crowd behind us, and we rode that wave.”
Els is mystified _ actually he referred to it as “crazy,” that the Internationals haven’t won since.
“I’ve been playing (on Presidents Cup teams) ever since 1996, and obviously lost quite a few times,” Els said. “We had one tie (in South Africa in 2003), so it’s hard to take. We don’t really want to keep losing this thing.”
There are five Australians on the International team _ Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Jason Day and Greg Norman’s captain’s picks Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley _ three South Koreans, three South Africans, including Els, and Japanese 20-year-old Ryo Ishikawa.
“I love this team,” Els said. “The Aussie boys are ready, a lot of them are playing really good golf.”
Add to that Els’ countryman and this year’s Masters winner Charl Schwartzel.
“He’s got the perfect ball flight for these greens,” Els said. “So he’s ready to go.”
Asked about pairings, Els suggested it didn’t matter who played with who on the Internationals.
“We’re professional golfers and we know that we need to win points, no matter who you play with,” Els said. “We can’t keep huffing on about it.”
Thursday’s play has six foursomes (alternate shot) matches, followed by six fourball (better-ball) matches on Friday; five foursomes and five fourballs on Saturday and 12 singles matches on Sunday.
That’s 34 matches, with 17 1/2 points ensuring a win for either team.
Woods and Steve Stricker, unbeatable in the last Presidents Cup, might not be playing together for every match as the Americans try to win for the seventh time in nine tournaments.
Woods said Tuesday he liked what he saw in the practice round from Stricker, who has not competed since Sept. 25 at the Tour Championship because of a neck injury affecting the strength in his left arm.
“Hopefully, we’ll get put out there together,” Woods said. “I know that we feel very comfortable with one another and we were talking about it today. There’s a certain comfort level about each other’s games.”
He added, however, that the pairings for the week have not been decided.
“A lot of pairings have not been set in stone,” Woods said. Ultimately, it’s up to U.S. captain Fred Couples.
Woods has had 17 partners in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup over the years, but he has played only with Stricker the last two cups. They have lost only one match, last year at Wales.
Stricker, meanwhile, could easily partner someone like Hunter Mahan. If that’s the case, it likely would be in foursomes, which could still leave intact the formidable Woods-Stricker tandem for fourballs.
It was Ogilvy who said two years ago about that partnership, “You’ve gone guy who hits every fairway and makes every putt, and his partner is Tiger Woods.”
Woods only faced two questions about possibly playing Adam Scott, giving him a reunion with caddie Steve Williams two weeks after his racial comment while being roasted at a caddies award dinner.
“It’s already done,” Woods said about the ongoing saga. “I addressed it last week and I said life goes forward, not backward.”
And there was only one mention of Woods being a captain’s pick despite not having won in two years.
“Fred could have picked anybody, and I’m thankful that he had faith in me to be a part of the team,” Woods said. “A lot of the players wanted me on the team, as well. So that part definitely did feel good.”
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