Nicklaus and Player fight for Cup underdog billing

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MONTREAL, Sep 26 (Reuters) Rival captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player each tried to shed the favourites' tag on Tuesday in the build-up to this week's Presidents Cup.

The Americans have dominated the team competition, winning four of the first six editions, and most of their 12-man team have displayed impressive form in recent weeks.

However, Player's Internationals boast greater strength in depth, with six former major winners in Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Mike Weir, Geoff Ogilvy and US Open champion Angel Cabrera.

They also hold a clear advantage in experience.

''If you go on paper, I think all of Gary's players are in the top 25 in the world and we go down to 47 or something like that,'' US captain Nicklaus told reporters yesterday at Royal Montreal Golf Club.

Nicklaus was a little off with his figures as the Internationals have three players ranked between 34 and 46 in the world while American Lucas Glover is 61st.

However, his general point was accurate, with nine members of Player's team ranked in the top 19 and the US claiming only four.

Where the Americans shine is at the top of their order where world number one Tiger Woods, second-ranked Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk (third) and Steve Stricker lead the way.

''Jack's team has got to be the favourites,'' said South African Player, who is bidding for his first Cup victory in his third appearance as captain of the Internationals.

''He said our team is stronger on paper but he's got the top four players in the world and they've all been playing very well.'' ELS RETURN Player is delighted to have compatriot Els back in his line-up after the three-times major winner missed the 2005 edition because of a knee injury.

''Ernie is our number one player according to the points earned and I think he has been for two years,'' he said.

''It was a big disappointment for me last time not to have Ernie and we lost by one hole. That's when you realised how important it would have been to have Ernie.'' Perhaps the biggest advantage for Nicklaus, who leads the US for a fourth time in the biennial team competition, is the superb form produced by his players on the 2007 PGA Tour.

Although Woods has dominated the circuit with seven victories this season, eight of his team mates have added a further 11 titles.

''Our guys have really been playing well and I think they are well prepared,'' Nicklaus said. ''They are enthusiastic and the guys are all looking forward to playing.'' Player said he had already worked out his pairings for Thursday's opening six foursome matches, while Nicklaus needed more time for fine-tuning.

''We have a rough idea and we've matched up what we think the guys could play,'' Nicklaus added.

''I don't think we'll have the same pairings the second day that we would have the first day. We've changed that.'' REUTERS BJR BD1054

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