Undignified demise looms for Dunhill Cup

What may prove to be the last Alfred Dunhill Cup in its present format begins here today. Although an announcement about the future of the event will not be made until the weekend, the suggestion is that instead of the Nations Cup of golf, it will transmute into a celebrity pro-am tournament using the Old Course, Carnoustie and the new Kingsbarns links just outside St Andrews.

What may prove to be the last Alfred Dunhill Cup in its present format begins here today. Although an announcement about the future of the event will not be made until the weekend, the suggestion is that instead of the Nations Cup of golf, it will transmute into a celebrity pro-am tournament using the Old Course, Carnoustie and the new Kingsbarns links just outside St Andrews.

Quite what the attraction of watching the stars of screen and non-golfing sports wrapped up in waterproofs and woolly hats attempting to swing a club in lashing rain, gales and single-figure temperatures - the conditions that spoilt yesterday's pre-tournament pro-am - is a secret known only to the sponsors.

But then they have had more success in getting Kevin Costner, Samuel L Jackson and Michael Douglas - Catherine Zeta Jones narrowly failed a last-minute audition for the Welsh side - to cross the Atlantic in recent years than Americans with a single-figure world golf ranking.

Next week's Presidents Cup match is apparently to blame, with most of the United States players either taking the week off or preparing in the sunshine of Las Vegas. For the first time the Americans are not seeded, although all three are major champions. Tom Lehman, the 1996 Open champion, is a respectable 12th in the world, but Larry Mize, the '87 Masters champion, is 126th, and John Daly, the '95 Open champion over the Old Course, is 424th.

England, missing the World Match Play champion Lee Westwood, and Ireland, lacking Darren Clarke, are also unseeded. Instead, Scotland, led inevitably by Colin Montgomerie, are the top seeds, along with Argentina - who have Eduardo Romero, Angel Cabrera and Jose Coceres all in form - defending champions Spain, who have had to replace Sergio Garcia with Miguel Angel Martin, and two-time winners South Africa.

Random is not an adjective usually associated with the draw here and Group One has an intriguing look with Scotland, Wales and England brought together with Bernhard Langer's Germany. "There are some keen rivalries there," said Jamie Spence, the England captain.

Since Scotland, as a team, and Montgomerie, individually, have struggled to beat opponents from Paraguay, India and China, the Scottish No 1 was just glad he will not be "doing my golfing ambassadorship with third world countries".

Spence, at 105th in the world, is the highest-ranked player in his team, which also includes Brian Davis and Roger Chapman. The last time England won the event was in 1992 with the supposed B team of Spence, Steve Richardson and David Gilford. They beat Scotland in the final, as they have in all five meetings in the tournament.

"Our team? I think we have picked a better line-up than Kevin Keegan did," joked Spence, an Arsenal fan. "I had a feeling we would get Scotland. No one is expecting us to do very well but anything can happen. It is a great event and a very special week."

Such is the majority feeling among the players here. "It will be sad to lose a team event and the opportunity to represent your country," said Jose Maria Olazabal. For Daly, who won eight of his nine matches in 1993 and '98, "this is my Ryder Cup because I'll never get in the team and they sure won't let me be captain".

The 34-year-old has been enjoying a lower profile recently. He has not had a drink "in a month or two" and hardly gambles since "I don't have the money to do it any more".

DUNHILL CUP DRAW AND TEE-OFF TIMES

Round robin group stages (prefix number denotes seeding; winners of each group qualify for semi-finals)

GROUP ONE (1) Scotland, (8) Wales, Germany, England

GROUP TWO (4) South Africa, (5) New Zealand, France, Ireland

GROUP THREE (3) Spain, (6) Sweden, China, Zimbabwe

GROUP FOUR (2) Argentina (7) Australia, Japan, United States

TODAY'STEE-OFF TIMES (seeded positions in brackets):

GROUP TWO

South Africa v France

09.30 D Frost v J-F Remesy 09.40 R Goosen v R Jacquelin 09.50 E Els v T Levet

New Zealand v Ireland

10.00 G Turner v D Smyth 10.10 G Waite v P Harrington 10.20 M Campbell v P McGinley

GROUP FOUR

Australia v United States

10.30 S Leaney v J Daly 10.40 N O'Hern v L Mize 10.50 P O'Malley v T Lehman

Argentina v Japan

11.00 E Romero v T Nishikawa 11.10 A Cabrera v I Aoki 11.20 J Coceres v T Watanabe

GROUP THREE

Spain v China

11.30 M A Jimenez v Wu Xiang-bing 11.40 M A Martin v Zhang Lian-wei 11.50 J M Olazabal v Liang Wen-chong

Sweden v Zimbabwe

12.00 P Sjoland v M McNulty 12.10 P-U Johansson v T Johnstone 12.20 M Gronberg v N Price

GROUP ONE

Wales v England

12.30 I Woosnam v R Chapman 12.40 P Price v B Davis 12.50 D Park v J Spence

Scotland v Germany

13.00 G Orr v B Langer 13.10 A Coltart v T Gogele 1320 C Montgomerie v S Struver

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