MONTREAL--It takes thick skin to be a member of Jack Nicklaus' Presidents Cup team. In a meeting with his squad last month at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the Golden Bear was going around the tables, greeting everyone with niceties until he got to Charles Howell III, who has tailed off after a hot West Coast that included a playoff win over Phil Mickelson at the Nissan Open.
According to Howell, who was sitting at a table with Zach Johnson, David Toms and Hunter Mahan, the dialogue from Nicklaus went like this:
"Zach, great job on winning the Masters green jacket, that's fantastic, that's awesome."
"David, another solid season, you are another steady, steady player."
"Hunter, you've really come along here lately. This is fantastic, young guy."
"Charles . . . you need a lesson."
Howell, who knows Nicklaus through not only the Presidents Cup but also a sponsorship deal with UBS, was quick enough on his feet to say, "My pro-am time is 7 a.m. tomorrow," but Nicklaus never showed up to give that lesson.
The Bear did, however, give Howell the featured pairing in today's Foursomes competition at Royal Montreal. Nicklaus broke up his Tiger Woods-Jim Furyk team that was so strong in 2005 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, pairing Howell with Woods (they won two alternate-shot matches at Fancourt in 2003) and Furyk with Toms.
"I think that Tiger would like to play with Furyk," Nicklaus said during his Wednesday news conference to announce the pairings. "I think [Tiger] would like to play with two or three other guys also. I think that Tiger and Charles played well in South Africa. I think Charles has been in a bit of a bump since then, bumpy road and he needs some help from somebody, and I think Tiger is the guy to give it to him. After that, my guess is it will be switched off, but I want to get Charles off to a good start if possible."
Woods and Howell will take on K.J. Choi and Nick O'Hern, but the match I'm most interested in watching is the second one out this afternoon: Mike Weir and Vijay Singh vs. Mickelson and Woody Austin. Singh handed Weir his most painful loss at the 2004 Canadian Open, and this is Austin's first international team competition. International captain Gary Player put Weir and Singh together to get the partisan crowd into it, but Austin has the potential to stir up Mickelson, who requested Woody as a replacement for the fiery partner he had in '05, Chris DiMarco.
And if you haven't logged on to weather.com to check the playing conditions, it's raining and 55 degrees this morning in Montreal, so expect a wet one when you turn on the TV at 1 p.m. for TNT's coverage.