Player taps host nation's 'hero' with captain's pick

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TULSA, Okla. - Gary Player awakened Monday morning in South Africa with 10 of the top 25 golfers in the world already on his International Presidents Cup team.

Player used his head to add No. 26, the only golfer in the world to beat Tiger Woods head-to-head twice in match play. Then he used his heart to add an emotional catalyst to the mix.

Canadian Mike Weir joined Australian Nick O'Hern as the captain's picks for the daunting International roster. With the event being staged in Montreal in September, there was ample reason to give the crowds a rooting interest against the neighboring Americans.

"If we didn't have a Canadian on my team and playing in Canada, I can assure you ... that the series would be quite flat amongst the Canadian people," Player said. "Mike is a hero in his country, deservedly so. I'm sure the Canadian people are going to be relieved. It's going to enhance the event in Canada."

While Player added two Presidents Cup veterans to his roster, U.S. counterpart Jack Nicklaus went with youth by picking international team rookies Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan to round out his 12-man squad. He bypassed veterans Mark Calcavecchia and Chris DiMarco, the hero of the U.S. victory in 2005.

"I had to think of whether I wanted to have experience or youth," Nicklaus said. "Unfortunately my experience wasn't playing very well. I conferred with Jeff Sluman (my assistant captain) and thought maybe the only way the guys get experience is to play. So we both came up with the conclusion that we would pick two young guys and let them play. It's not just this Presidents Cup, but these guys have a big future in front of them. Why should the next time be the first time they play?"

Glover, a former Clemson star, had been hovering among the top 10 in the U.S. standings much of the year before he was bumped by Woody Austin, who finished second at the PGA Championship and took the last automatic spot. After barely missing the Ryder Cup squad a year ago, Glover was relieved when he got a call from Nicklaus while connecting through the airport in Atlanta.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking and then I was flying home and Mr. Nicklaus called me," Glover said.

"Obviously I was very excited and very honored to play for him and play for my country."

The 25-year-old Mahan made himself an obvious pick with his torrid play this summer. He finished in the top 20 in all three majors he played - tying for 13th at the U.S. Open, sixth at the British and 18th at the PGA. He won his first PGA Tour event at Hartford, posted two other top-10s and finished no worse than 22nd since June.

"If there is a young player who has played better in the last six months, I don't know who it is," Nicklaus said.

Mahan didn't expect to get picked as a rookie sitting 14th in the standings behind John Rollins, Brett Wetterich and Calcavecchia.

"It wasn't really in my sights a couple months ago," Mahan said. "I was kind of the opposite of Lucas, who was on the inside the whole time and I was kind of on the outside the whole time trying to earn my way on. If I didn't earn my way on I wasn't going to worry about it."

Player could have stacked his team with only players ranked among the top 27 in the world if he'd selected red-hot Argentine Andres Romero, who moved in and out of an automatic berth in the past two weeks. With the luxury of having such a strong and experienced squad, Player could afford to bypass eight higher-ranked players to take Weir.

"It's a very difficult thing to select a team," Player said. "There were a lot of players, when they hear the selections, (that) will say they thought they deserved to play and didn't get in. But that's part of the game. ... I gave (Romero) a lot of thought because I like to pick guys on the up, but I thought he was very young and will have other opportunities in the future."

Weir isn't much of a reach considering the 2003 Masters Tournament champion has played well in three previous Presidents Cup appearances with an 8-6 match record. Player hailed Weir's experience and positive team attitude.

Weir was nervous considering adopted Canadian Stephen Ames could have taken the pressure off Player to pick a local interest by finishing in the top four of the PGA and earning an automatic berth. Ames shot 76 playing with Woods in the final group and finished tied for 12th.

"Being in Canada I wanted to play, badly," Weir said. "I felt like sometimes maybe I was trying too hard. Now that Gary has made me a selection I can relax a little bit more and play some good golf leading into the Presidents Cup. I'm really relieved."

Taking O'Hern was a fairly easy choice. The Aussie went 2-3 in 2005, but is the only golfer who has beaten Woods twice in the WGC-Match Play event. He was edged out of an automatic spot by Stuart Appleby in the World Golf Ranking, which is used to determine the International qualifiers.

"I'd obviously love to have another crack at Tiger," O'Hern said.

On paper, the Americans would seem to be facing an uphill battle despite having the top three ranked players in the world: Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson.

The U.S. squad has five major winners vs. six on the International side. But the Americans have five players who haven't been part of an international team event in the past three years. The only International rookies are Australians Geoff Ogilvy and Rory Sabbatini.

"I've always said I just want 12 guys who want to play," Nicklaus said. "I promise you the three guys who haven't had any international experience want to play. I think Woody, Hunter and Lucas will bring great enthusiasm. ... Maybe Gary will have a little bit more advantage on the experience side, but, hopefully, we'll be able to match that with enthusiasm."

The U.S. has never won on international soil, but its only loss in the six previous Presidents Cup matches came in 1998 in Australia.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

PRESIDENTS CUP


Where: At The Royal Montreal Golf Club; Montreal, Canada


When: Sept. 27-30




TEAMS


U.S.


1. Tiger Woods


2. Jim Furyk


3. Phil Mickelson


4. Zach Johnson


5. Charles Howell


6. Scott Verplank


7. David Toms


8. Steve Stricker


9. Stewart Cink


10. Woody Austin


Captain's Picks


11. Lucas Glover


14. Hunter Mahan



INTERNATIONAL


1. Ernie Els, SAf


2. Adam Scott, Aus


3. Vijay Singh, Fij


4. Geoff Ogilvy, Aus


5. Choi Kyung-Ju, Kor


6. Rory Sabbatini, SAf


7. Retief Goosen, SAf


8. Trevor Immelman, SAf


9. Angel Cabrera, Arg


10. Stuart Appleby, Aus

Captain's Picks


11. Nick O'Hern, Aus


20. Mike Weir, Can

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hownowbrowncow
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hownowbrowncow 08/15/07 - 09:30 am
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Player should have picked

Player should have picked Romero, that kid will kick Tigers butt!

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