NAPLES, Fla. – For his 22nd Shark Shootout, Greg Norman is touting this as his best field ever. The tournament founder and host isn't the first involved with a golf event to do that.
But he may just be right.
Half of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, two from Europe, and two more who were assistant captains are playing at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort starting Friday.
"No question about it, it's the strongest ever," Norman said. "I don't think it's a field that I put together; I think it's a field that the guys wanted to come and play."
Now the longest continuos challenge season event on the tour, the 12 two-man teams play three different formats over three days — modified alternate shot in the first round, followed by better ball and a scramble in the final two.
Graeme McDowell, coming off beating Tiger Woods in a playoff at Woods' tournament on Sunday, and Ian Poulter were part of Europe's winning team. McDowell, who won the U.S. Open earlier in the year, won the decisive match against American Hunter Mahan at the Ryder Cup. Darren Clarke was one of the vice captains for Europe, and Davis Love III was an assistant for the U.S. team.
The Ryder Cup theme carries over to the pairings in different ways. McDowell and Clarke, and Fowler and Watson are playing together, but so are Johnson and Poulter, rivals in Wales.
"This is a team event, and you need a good partner," Poulter said. "I'm very excited to play with Dustin."
"You kind of develop a bond with those guys, too, even though we're really trying to beat the crap out of one another during that week," Stricker said.
That kind of stuff doesn't matter, though. Not this week, when fun is the name of the game — at least until it comes to the final groups on Sunday.
McDowell, fresh off his win over Woods, is ready to celebrate his outstanding year.
"If the golf doesn't go well, we'll certainly enjoy ourselves, that's for sure," said McDowell, who shared European Tour Player of the Year honors with Martin Kaymer. "We're certainly here to try and put ourselves on the leaderboard as well."
"We could definitely win the prize for spending the longest time in the bar this week," Clarke said.
Fowler and Watson may win the prize for avoiding the bar the longest — neither of them drink, but the close friends have their own ways of having fun together.
At the PGA Championship, they spent time playing with neighborhood kids near the house Watson was staying at, riding Razor scooters, throwing footballs and baseballs.
"And down the street, a block from the street ... you can feed the goats for 25 cents," Watson said.
"And ducks," Fowler added.
"So we fed some goats and ducks every other day because we had to drive right past it to go to the golf course," Watson said. "So just goofing around. We both like to goof around and have fun."
Stricker teamed with fellow Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly to win last year. It was Kelly's second title; he won with Rod Pampling in 2006. They'll try to become the third team to defend his title.
"We've got a nice bond together," Stricker said. "It's a really nice week. The competition is strong. This year, it looks even stronger. We'll have to play hard to defend."
The winning team shares $750,000 from the $3-million purse.