THOMASTOWN, Ireland - Scott Verplank had to wait six years, but he finally gets to play in the World Cup.
At No. 21 in the world, Verplank is the highest-ranked American who accepted a chance to represent the United States in the two-man team competition involving 24 countries. Nine other players, from Tiger Woods to Todd Hamilton, declined to play.
The World Cup will be played Nov. 18-21 in Seville, Spain.
Verplank will play with Bob Tway, his best friend on tour and neighbor at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla.
The PGA Tour changed the criteria this year to allow the qualifying player to choose his partner, as long as his teammate was in the top 100 in the world.
They should make a good team, although Verplank doubts they will sell many tickets.
"He and I play together great," Verplank said of Tway, a former PGA champion and eight-time winner on tour. "But if Bob and I play for the American team, they'll cancel the event next year. It's not the Tiger-and-Phil (Mickelson) they were hoping for."
Verplank has not played in the World Cup since 1998 in New Zealand when John Daly was his partner. Verplank won the individual trophy that year.
"I won and they canceled the event," he said with a laugh.
Not quite. The World Golf Championships assumed control of the tournament the following year, changing the criteria and the format.
The world ranking was used to select teams, so Tiger Woods played in 1999 and chose Mark O'Meara as his partner. The next year, it switched from combining both players' score to two rounds of better ball and two rounds of alternate shot. Woods and David Duval won in Argentina.
Mickelson, Davis Love III, Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk, Chris DiMarco, Chad Campbell, Kenny Perry and Hamilton all were ranked ahead of Verplank. Hamilton wanted to play, but he has to be in Hawaii the Monday after the World Cup for the Grand Slam of Golf.
Verplank agreed to play Sunday, but only if his endless battle with a foot injury allows. If he can't play, next on the list would be David Toms.
WOODS WEEK: Tiger Woods said he would not have placed odds on playing 72 holes at Mount Juliet at the start of the week, when his back hurt so much that he spent the first couple of rounds wincing in pain.
"Getting worked on three times a day isn't the best way to go about my business," he said. "I was able to compete. I played as hard as I could. I'm glad it's done."
His only victory this year came at the Accenture Match Play Championship, and he has only three official tournaments left to win a stroke-play title - Disney, the Tour Championship and the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan.
Still, Woods said he is better now than when he only won one time in 1998 while going through swing changes.
"I was more consistent, but I wasn't contending," he said. "I was back-dooring top 10s just by playing well on the weekend. This year, I've been in contention to win tournaments. I just haven't won."
This was Woods' 13th finish in the top 10. In five of those, he has finished no more than three shots behind.
RETURN TO EUROPE: The American Express Championship will return to Europe in 2006, played at The Grove just outside London for an $8 million purse.
It will be the first time the World Golf Championships have gone to Britain since they began in 1999.
The Grove, former home of the Earls of Clarendon, has been transformed into a contemporary country estate with an 18-hole course by American architect Kyle Phillips, who also designed Kingsbarns in Scotland.
The American Express began in 1999 at Valderrama in southern Spain for two years, and was played at Mount Juliet in Ireland in 2002 and this year.
It now alternates between the United States and Europe, with the tournament going to Harding Park in San Francisco next year with prize money of $7.5 million.
DIVOTS: Ernie Els won for the third time on the PGA Tour this year, making him and Vijay Singh (eight wins) the only player with at least three victories.... Stuart Appleby tied for 16th, but leads the field in one category. The Aussie is the only player to have competed in all 17 official World Golf Championships.... Davis Love III surpassed $3 million for the third time in his career, the first without winning a tournament.
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