Golf: Alfred Dunhill Cup - American drawback for England

Westwood and his team have been handed the short straw of starting today against top seeds

NOTHING IS as sure a sign of the onset of winter, nor a bigger boost for the local woolly hat manufacturing industry, as the staging of the Alfred Dunhill Cup on the Old Course. Usually, the only thing more muffled than the visitors from China and Korea is the draw for the event.

Or, rather, the half-draw given that eight of the 16 nations are put into the four groups as seeded teams. Whether the seeded teams or the system to produce them comes first is debatable, but the method used on this occasion - the world rankings of the top-two players in each team - meant Sweden slipped in front of England as the No 8 seeds.

This, at least, gave England a chance of avoiding having to play the No 1 seeds and hot favourites, America. Unfortunately, the first unseeded team drawn out consisted of Lee Westwood, Peter Baker and David Carter. This is the third year running that England have been drawn in the same group as the Americans; they have lost on both previous occasions.

Other pairings feature regulars in the qualifying stage and Scotland and Ireland, and Australia and New Zealand are no strangers to being drawn together. The International Management Group, who organise the event, are the past masters at draws of this kind and who is to know what is written on the piece of paper that is taken out of the envelopes that emerge from the trophy?

The man who should know is Peter German, the tournament director, but at one stage yesterday Japan were twice "drawn out of the hat". Not usually someone who gets so flustered, German pleaded: "Who have we got left." The missing team turned out to be Korea.

"We really love this tournament, this golf course and this format," said Mark O'Meara, the Americans' captain and a client of IMG. Though the knockout format was done away with some years ago - after the Americans lost to France in the first round - England, who are also joined by Sweden and Japan in Group One, know they must beat the favourites today.

"Obviously, it is straight in at the deep end but it could work in our favour," the English captain, Baker, said. "We are capable of beating them."

O'Meara, slightly to John Daly's surprise, picked the 1995 Open champion at St Andrews to face Westwood, the English team's top player and a winner in Belgium at the weekend. "I like the way John is swinging and I know he feels comfortable on the course," O'Meara said. "His record has shown that he can play really well here and with Lee playing some extremely good golf, I thought it would be a good match-up."

Westwood is no slouch off the tee but against Daly he will have to get used to playing his approach shots first - an advantage in straight matchplay but here each keeps a score for 18 holes. It means no lead is safe until the notorious 17th, the Road Hole, is negotiated but Daly yesterday required no more than a sand wedge for his second shot at the 461-yard hole.

"You have to beat the Americans at some stage, whether it is in the group stage, the semi-finals or the final," Westwood said. "If the three of us can shoot 68s tomorrow, we'd be unlucky not to win. You need to forget who you are playing and all the hype."

Baker, 31 yesterday, then chose Carter, the Irish Open champion, to face Tiger Woods while the two captains will play each other. Carter, born in South Africa of English parents, is making his first representative appearance 20 months after undergoing emergency brain surgery in Dubai.

"Then, I never thought I would be playing on the greatest stage of all against the world No 1," the 26-year-old said. "This is what dreams are made of. I'll be nervous, but I won't be running away."

O'Meara played in the pro-am yesterday with Prince Andrew, who shot a 76 off a handicap of seven, while Ian Botham scored a 75 off six in a star-studded fourball with Ernie Els, which also included Kapil Dev and Ivan Lendl. "If I had a pairing like that every week, I might like playing in pro-ams," said Els, who seems to have got over his back problems.

South Africa are the defending champions, but will have to see off neighbours Zimbabwe on Saturday to reach the semi-finals. Friday's match between Scotland and Ireland may decide Group Two, although first the home side have to deal with China. Colin Montgomerie, the Scottish captain, knows not to rule out an upset after once saying before a match with Paraguay that they "should go home" if they lose. They did.

Two of the Chinese players have been given invitations to the Volvo Masters at the end of the month. Montgomerie, asked if there is any particular characteristic about their games, was beaten to an answer by a local wag: "A Chinese takeaway."

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