Stricker short of local expertise

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The Independent Online
One of the requirements for the Alfred Dunhill Cup is to be familiar with the format. This might take most of a five-course meal at the Old Course Hotel, but being familiar with your team should be easier.

America are the top seeds by virtue of the fact that all three of their team are ranked in the top 15 in the world. Phil Mickelson, Mark O'Meara and Steve Stricker are, in fact, first, fourth and fifth respectively on the US money list.

However, there remains a doubt about their local knowledge. Mickelson, the captain, played the Old Course for the first time in last year's Open, when he was joint 40th, but Stricker did not play then. "Has Steve seen the course before?" Mickelson was asked. "Steve who?" he replied. "He played in the Open last year, didn't he?"

Nor was the 26-year-old, a four-time winner in the US this year, particularly sure where he was - the Firth of Forth was mentioned - but he does know why he is here. "The primary reason I wanted to play was the Old Course," he said. "It is not just the course. The whole town adds to the whole aura of St Andrews."

If golf's grande dame is the special attraction of the event, the format takes more explaining. "The first year we played I had no idea, and by the time I had figured it out, I was on the road," Nick Price, of Zimbabwe, said. "The year Canada won, we actually beat them but for some reason they beat the team which we lost to, and they went through."

Last year, Zimbabwe lost to Scotland in the final. This year the two teams have been drawn in the same group and only one can go through to Sunday's semi-finals and final. First there are three days of round-robin play, with matches played under the medal-matchplay format. That ensures no one can be secure of a win until they have negotiated the fearsome 17th.

Price has been suffering from a sinus infection and has played only five times since May. Greg Norman, the world No 1 and Australia's captain, has interrupted his business affairs to be here. He has some 28 course designs being worked on. "There is no need for me to jump on an airplane and fly around the world to play golf," he said.

Some did not have so far to come. Nick Faldo is missing from an England team that is unseeded for the first time in the 12-year history of the event. Barry Lane, Lee Westwood and Jonathan Lomas take up the struggle. Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer both leave their nations short of pedigree. Ireland, however, are in form and a relaxed Colin Montgomerie leads the host nation's defence.

Monty once promised to go home if Scotland lost to Paraguay (they did), but there should be no danger of Scotland doing an Estonia here.

ALFRED DUNHILL CUP Round-robin group phase draw (Old Course, St Andrews, today) (* denotes seeded teams): Group One *United States (P Mickelson, M O'Meara, S Stricker); *Spain (D Borrego, I Garrido, M Jimenez); England (B Lane, J Lomas, L Westwood); Italy (C Rocca, S Grappasonni, E Canonica). Group Two *Zimbabwe (N Price, M McNulty, T Johnstone); *Scotland (C Montgomerie, A Coltart, R Russell); India (G Ghei, A Sher, J Singh); Sweden (P Hedblom, J Sandelin, P Sjoland). Group Three *South Africa (E Els, R Goosen, W Westner); *Ireland (D Clarke, P Harrington, P McGinley); Canada (R Gibson, J Rutledge, R Todd); Wales (P Affleck, M Mouland, P Price). Group Four *Australia (G Norman, S Elkington, W Riley); *New Zealand (F Nobilo, G Turner, G Waite); Japan (H Meshiai, N Ozaki, K Takami), Germany (T Goegele, S Struever, H-P Thuel).

Seeded teams will play medal matches against the non-seeded teams in their groups today and tomorrow. The seeded teams in each group will play each other on Saturday. The winners of Groups One and Two will meet in one semi-final on Sunday morning, the winners of Groups Three and Four meeting in the other. The final will be held on Sunday afternoon.