Against all odds: Price, International Team hungry for Presidents Cup respect, victory

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DUBLIN, Ohio -- History is not on his side. Neither is the home course. Neither are the fans, at least the majority of them. They will be polite, to be sure. But they will not have his team's best interests at heart.

They are Americans. He is the International captain. He knows the drill.

The odds are stacked against Nick Price and his team this week. The Internationals have not won The Presidents Cup since 1998, their only victory in nine attempts. They are going against a loaded American team -- including eight of the world's top 15 players -- that knows Muirfield Village like the back of its golf glove, and which is determined to make amends for Sunday's disappointment a year ago at the Ryder Cup.

That's a combination of talent, experience and motivation. It will be tough to beat.

Of course, Price's team is motivated, too -- motivated not to get bulldozed like in recent years. Not only are the Internationals on an eight-year losing streak, they haven’t been very competitive. They've come no closer than three points in any of their last four attempts.

Frankly, Sunday's singles have become a Sunday stroll for the U.S.

So if you think this week is a must-win for the Internationals, go ahead. You won't be alone. Adam Scott thinks so, too. Having already ended one drought earlier this year by becoming the first Australian to win the Masters, Scott is anxious to continue that trend this week.

"I'm getting tired of getting killed out there," Scott said recently. "This is a big year for us. It's our time.”

He even thinks the credibility of the event, at least from a competition standpoint, is at risk if his side doesn't step up. His fellow Aussie Jason Day agrees.

"If it gets one-sided," Day said, "then people start losing interest."

The must-win label is a tricky one, though. The pressure that accompanies such a declaration can be unrelenting, suffocating. Some athletes like it, thriving in that backs-against-the-wall moment. Others would rather avoid it, focus on the simpler tasks, and let the business of winning take care of itself.

When Price was asked Tuesday if he considers this a must-win situation, his answer straddled both perspectives.

"I wouldn't say it's a must win. That's a hard thing to put on anyone," Price said. "But this one needs to be competitive."

It's the baby steps approach. Before the Internationals think about winning, they simply need to make the Americans start sweating at one of these things. Put the pressure on, hole some big putts, rattle their confidence. An unexpected match win not only would generate momentum for Price's squad, it might generate a little doubt on the U.S. side, perhaps for the first time since Fred Couples has been the captain.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, the Americans play very loose at The Presidents Cup, and the Internationals rarely have given them a chance to feel any other way. If they can do so this week, then maybe the vise tightens on Sunday as it did at Medinah.

Won't be easy, though. For the first time, The Presidents Cup will be played at one of the PGA TOUR's annual stops. The American players have made a collective 88 starts at Muirfield Village compared to the Internationals' 52, and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama is the only player on either side without a prior visit to Jack Nicklaus' masterpiece.

Oh, and no one can match Tiger Woods' success here with five TOUR wins.

"It's a course where more of my guys have played than Nick's," Couples said. "... That's an advantage."

Price doesn't agree. He isn't worried about which team has more experience playing the course. He isn't worried about the crowd. He isn't even worried that his team, on paper, can't match the Americans' credentials.

His primary concern is that his 12 players develop team spirit. Does that sound cliché? Perhaps, but that doesn't make it any less important.

Unlike the Americans, the Internationals don't get the benefit of playing a team competition every year. Unlike the Europeans, the Internationals are from farther-reaching countries and face more language issues. Until Monday night, the 12 Internationals had never been in the same room together.

Trying to create a unified team room in a short time frame is difficult, perhaps near-impossible. But if Price can do that, then perhaps each individual's level of play will be raised.

"It's all about the camaraderie and the team spirit in the room and how motivated the guys are," Price said. "They will overcome many, many hurdles and obstacles if you have that camaraderie and that support from your other 11 teammates.

"That bonding, you can knock down walls very quickly with that."

It wasn't there two years ago, according to Day, when the Internationals lost at Royal Melbourne. The Aussies on the team felt immense pressure to perform in front of their home crowd, and couldn't deliver for captain Greg Norman. Day himself was 1-3-1 that week but his early take on this year's team is different.

"It feels like the team is really blending well together than two years ago," he said.

So maybe there's hope that this Presidents Cup can come down to a nail-biting finish on Sunday. Maybe the Internationals, playing with a sense of urgency, can start strong and send a message to their opponents. Maybe Price pushes the right buttons and makes us -- and more importantly, his team -- believe that this won't be just another American romp.

No, it won't be easy. Staring down Tiger and Phil and Co. never is. But the Europeans did it last year with a miracle rally. It's not impossible.

"They will surprise you this week," said Nicklaus, who was the captain in 1998 when the U.S. suffered its only loss. "The International Team is a lot better than you think it is."

They have a chance to prove it starting Thursday.

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