US absentees allow Irish to think big

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The Independent Online

The English are anticipating a birdie-fest, the Irish a shamrock-fest, while the Spanish have already begun their kissing-fest. The World Cup of Golf is many things to many men and should provide a fascinating insight into global ability as well as national characteristics here on the Algarve over the next four days.

Alas, to America this World Cup is hardly of the stature Jules Rimet might have prayed it would be. Jools Holland, on the other hand, just maybe. Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson are both proven performers and anybody who dismisses their hopes of relieving England of the title Luke Donald and Paul Casey won so spectacularly last year knows little about golf and even less about the strength of the US Tour. But they are no Nicklauses, Palmers, Tigers or even Duvals (pre-collapse, of course).

These are just a sample of the heavyweights who have helped America compile 23 victories in 50 runnings and if they wanted it enough they would more often than not still have it.

But the fact that Tiger Woods and David Duval were the most recent winners five years ago shows that their ambition has dimmed somewhat and this year's representatives suggest it might even have been switched off. Cink is ranked 25th in the world (10th in the US) and Johnson 49th (21st).

This is not an isolated case of patriotic indifference. Proof is provided by Sergio Garcia's standing as the only member of the world's top 10 in attendance and perhaps such devotion is the reason Miguel Angel Jiminez was seen showering his team-mate in sloppy smackers yesterday. Or maybe it was the simple realisation that together with England and Ireland, they have an obvious shout.

In David Howell's eyes they will need plenty of birdies - in the alternating days of fourballs and foursomes - to stop him and Donald, although when you have just beaten the Tiger you have a right to be confident. "This course isn't the toughest test," he said. "It's going to be a birdie-fest."

Padraig Harrington did not agree, but his partner Paul McGinly fancied their chances with "half of Ireland down here following us". Why do the Irish take it so seriously, when others fail to do so? "You'll have to ask them," he said. "To us it's a big deal. We love to be the little guys taking on the big fellas."

Paul, look around. You are the big fellas.