National pride on the line

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2007, 12:00am

Every weekend hacker knows the drill. A friend makes the call, you cancel all other plans, and you spend a few hours of quality time out on the course together, chuckling about the absurdities both of life and the game you are desperately trying to master.

Well, it's nice to know that some things never change - no matter how much your situations might.

The week will be first and foremost about the game of golf. But it will also be about renewing an old friendship and enjoying - pressure notwithstanding - the very social nature of the game.

The England team of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose have more memories to share than they'd probably like to admit, having cut their teeth on the European Challenge Tour while rooming together.

Each is now firmly established among the world's top players and Rose, in particular, comes into the World Cup absolutely flying, having taken out the European Order of Merit for the first time, thanks to a stunning victory at the Volvo Masters in Valderrama.

The last time England took the World Cup home was in 2004 - thanks to Paul Casey and Luke Donald - and this year's pairing are relishing the chance to play together.

'It's a great opportunity to play with Justin and it would certainly be nice to win the World Cup,' said Poulter recently. 'It will be an exciting week and to pair up with Justin in what could, hopefully, be a pairing next September at the Ryder Cup as well. We will have a bit of fun out on the course.'

Rose added: 'The friendship that we have will hopefully create the right atmosphere for us to play good golf - that's what we are hoping for anyway.'

The Spanish team - Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Manuel Lara - also have a good look about them going into the weekend and also have their foundations formed through friendship.

While Jose Maria Olazabal's withdrawal from the event due to injury is regrettable - especially when considering he designed the course to be used - fans will be treated to the sight of the past two UBS Hong Kong Open champions cheering each other on the course. And enjoying a bottle of wine together, as is their tradition, once the day's play is done.

They will be trying for Spain's fifth World Cup victory and the pair finished seventh in the event behind the US when last paired in 2000.

'[Miguel] has been a great help and friend to me, and I very much look forward to representing Spain and playing in this big tournament for my country,' said Lara, who relied on Jimenez's advice when landing his tour breakthrough in Hong Kong last year. Lara missed the cut at the weekend, but Spain still celebrated as Jimenez won his second Hong Kong Open.

World Cup organisers will certainly be hoping for a repeat of the event's 2006 edition, which went to a sudden-death play-off before Germany's Bernhard Langer and Marcel Siem prevailed over the Scottish team of Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren.

There's a new German pairing this year - Alex Cejka and Martin Kaymer - who will try to retain the crown for their country, but it might just be last year's losing finalists who prevail. After all, there's nothing quite like the motivation of being able to right a wrong, as Monty has been quick to explain.

'I missed the green at the last hole and unfortunately that was that,' Montgomerie said recently. 'We lost the play-off, so we'll be hoping to go one better this year.

'We have a great opportunity ... I think we'll go to China as one of the favourites.'

Finally, for followers of the form guide, history points to the American pairing of Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum (childhood friends, by the way).

The Stars and Stripes has been raised in victory 23 times in the 54 editions, and American pairings (Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus; Fred Couples and Davis Love) share the record for most number of wins with four apiece.


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National pride on the line

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