Tiger Woods paired with Steve Stricker

Updated: November 16, 2011, 11:06 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The matchup that most of the golf world has anticipated will take place on the first day of the Presidents Cup.

Tiger Woods will go up against Australian Adam Scott, who now employs controversial caddie Steve Williams -- the forrmer friend and groomsman Woods dumped this summer after 12 years and 13 major championships together.

It isn't a one-on-one showdown, as both players have partners during the first session of the competition on Thursday at Royal Melbourne. Unlike the Ryder Cup, all 12 players compete on the first two days, with the first session consisting of six foursomes matches.

Woods' partner will be Steve Stricker, with whom he has gone 6-1 during the last Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. Scott will be paired with South Korea's K.J. Choi.

"We did not plan anything,'' said U.S. captain Fred Couples. "But I think it worked out awesome for everybody involved to have Adam and Tiger play. As we said all along, they are still very good friends, and I think it's an exciting match.''

And yet, Couples could have avoided such a match. Unlike the Ryder Cup, where the captains lay out their order of play not knowing what the other side will do, the Presidents Cup has the captains alternate placing players on the board.

When International captain Greg Norman put South Koreans Kyung-tae Kim and Y.E. Yang in the fifth group and had yet to place Scott and Choi, Couples could have put Woods and Stricker against Kim and Yang. He held them out, meaning Woods and Scott would be in the same group.

"I'm sure Freddie and I, everybody, we want to put this behind us,'' Norman said. "It's a dead issue as far as we're concerned. There's no animosity between any of the players or any of the issues that have taken place. I know it's good fodder. People like to talk about it in the media. But from our perspective, it's dead and gone, and we would like to keep it that way going forward.''

And yet, Norman, without prompting, brought it up in the news conference where the pairings were announced. And he said it was best to get such a matchup out of the way.

"I just think that in the situation and in the best spirit of the competition for the tournament, there's obviously a lot of speculation and intensity from the people in this room here that it could take place,'' Norman said.

"We talked about it and ... if we had to diffuse anything and just get this thing over and done with, wouldn't you rather have it sooner than later. Because I personally wouldn't have wanted to be sitting down at the singles (Sunday) and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it's the first time the two met.''

When Williams blasted Woods following Scott's victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, such a grouping was always going to be the subject of attention, whenever it happened.

Woods
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTiger Woods will go up against Adam Scott and former caddie Steve Williams on the first day of the 2011 Presidents Cup.

Williams turned up the heat two weeks ago when he made disparaging comments with racial implications at a caddie banquet in China -- comments that were meant to be in fun but led to calls for his firing or severe punishment.

There had been some thought Woods and Scott would play together at last week's Australian Open in Sydney, but it didn't happen, with both players attempting to downplay the situation and move on.

Although neither player was available Wednesday, Scott had said earlier he had no problem with such a matchup.

"Absolutely, it's probably inevitable in these events,'' said Scott, who is ranked seventh in the world. "I've played him before. You know, it's going to be a tough point to win like every other point. But that's the goal to go and try to get a point out of it.''

Woods had downplayed the possibility, thinking ahead more to a Sunday singles showdown. But it is hard to envision a 14-time major champion, now ranked 50th in the world, shying away from such a challenge.

Given his outspoken comments about Woods, it is also probably safe to figure that Williams will enjoy such an encounter as well -- although Norman attempted to put it in perspective.

Norman Because I personally wouldn't have wanted to be sitting down at the singles (Sunday) and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it's the first time the two met.

-- International captain Greg Norman
on having the Tiger-Scott matchup early

"I have not even had a conversation with Steve Williams. His job is to carry Adam Scott's bag and doesn't matter whether they are playing Tiger Woods or not,'' said Norman, who employed Williams for a time during his Hall of Fame playing career. "That's why I said in the beginning I think these guys are consummate professionals. I think Steve Williams is a consummate professional as a caddie.

"They will get to the first tee, they will probably shake hands, have a great day, let's go play, and that's it, like you do with any other player you walk to the tee or caddie you walk to the tee. And after that, the next 5½ or four hours or three hours or whatever it is, the guys are going to play their game and stay focused on their compartment of what they do on a day to day basis and year to year basis. I truly don't see any issues coming out of this thing at all.''

Said Couples: "If there were no rift, it would be an unbelievable pairing.''

The ninth playing of the Presidents Cup will begin with Americans Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson against South Africa's Ernie Els and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa.

In order, the other matches will be:

Bill Haas-Nick Watney vs. Australia's Geoff Ogilvy and South Africa's Charl Schwartzel; Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar vs. Australians Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day; Phil Mickelson-Jim Furyk vs. South Africa's Retief Goosen and Australia's Robert Allenby; Hunter Mahan-David Toms vs. South Koreans Kim and Yang.

On Friday, the competition changes to six fourball (best ball matches). Saturday consists of five morning matches and five afternoon matches with 12 singles matches on Sunday.

A total of 34 points are available, with the winning side needing to reach 17½ points.

Bob Harig is a golf writer for ESPN.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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