Presidents Cup touts sportmanship ahead of rivalry

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MONTREAL, Sep 27 (Reuters) On the eve of the seventh Presidents Cup, the US and International teams promised a vigorous contest but none of the bitter rivalry that has at times plagued the Ryder Cup.

''The will to win runs deep this week, but the goodwill runs deeper,'' Jack Nicklaus, captain of the US team, said during yesterday's opening ceremonies at the Royal Montreal Golf Club.

Gary Player, captain of the International team, paid tribute to Nicklaus for supporting the Presidents Cup during the memorable 2003 event in Player's native South Africa.

That was when the two sides played out a tie under a setting sun after an extra holes showdown between leading players Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

Player also noted that the four-day team event was being played in Canada for the first time.

''You've got an international team here, but this week we're going to be 12 Canadians,'' Player said.

The 90-minute opening ceremony featured glowing tributes for Nicklaus and Player and enough good-natured quips to underscore the point that the captains and organisers want sportsmanship to prevail through to Sunday.

Former US President George Bush, a driving force behind the Presidents Cup, praised Player as a ''great captain of a team we hope to defeat.'' ''Jack Nicklaus was my size when he was six,'' joked Player.

VOICE BROKE Nicklaus's voice broke with emotion when he acknowledged the support of his wife Barbara of his decision to captain the US team for the fourth time.

In balmy temperatures hovering well above average for Montreal in late September, the teams were heralded in by pipers, a military band and childrens' choir.

With Mounties wearing red tunics and on horseback, the national flags of the United States and six countries represented by the International team were raised.

Local dignitaries, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Jean Charest, premier of the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec, spoke in English and French.

The crowd's biggest standing ovations were for the US team's ace and world number one Woods and the Internationals' Mike Weir, 2003 Masters champion and a Canadian sporting hero.

The best one-liner of the opening ceremonies went to the ebullient Player, who remarked that he had met Prime Minister Harper at a dinner function the night before.

''I must say, he's got short arms and deep pockets. He didn't pay for a damn thing,'' Player said.

REUTERS BJR PM1330

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