By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Organisers' hopes of a triumphant start for the re-tooled World Cup of Golf in Melbourne this week have been dampened by players' coolness toward the tournament's new format and a personal tragedy afflicting Australia's Jason Day.
The team component of the biennial tournament has been watered down to a footnote, with the format reverting to 72 holes of strokeplay to reward the best individual and offer a test event for the Rio 2016 Games, where golf will return to the Olympic programme after 112 years.
The previous editions since 2000 had compatriots pairing up and relying on each other in foursomes and four-ball competitions, but the winning team will now be decided by the aggregate of their individual scores in strokeplay.
With $7 million of the total $8 million in prize money allocated for the individual category, players will compete fiercely at Royal Melbourne both as a team and against compatriots.
"It is a little strange, I must say," world number two Adam Scott, who will represent Australia with Day, told reporters on Wednesday.
"I mean I was kind of hoping that I would be spending four days playing with Jase (Day), I thought it would be good for both of us to do that, for sure.
"It is an interesting week with an individual thing and a teams thing and we are going to want to beat each other but we are also going to want to win, so I do not really know how that sits."
U.S. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem defended the emphasis on the individual as a more "marketable" format.
"We think that it has a better chance of fulfilling its mission which is to create more interest in the game in unique ways," he said.
"But we will see. If we go down this road and it doesn't work, we will adjust but we are going to give this every chance to work and we are excited ... to see what happens this weekend."
U.S. Masters champion Scott and Day form one of the most potent combinations at the tournament but world number 18 Day will tee off weighed down by the loss of eight of his relatives who were killed when Typhoon Haiyan pounded the Philippines earlier this month.
Day, whose mother is of Filipino heritage, is mourning his maternal grandmother, an uncle and a number of cousins, according to local media reports, and said other family members were still unaccounted for.
"(I'm) definitely, you know, looking forward to seeing my mum at the end of this week just to give her a hug, I know that she has gone through some hard times," Day said, as he battled to contain his emotions.
"Everyone that I have talked to have said a prayer for me and my family and I am trying to do the same for everyone else."
Scott is likely to vie for the individual trophy with world number seven Matt Kuchar, who won the last World Cup in China for the United States with team mate Gary Woodland.
Kuchar will represent the U.S. with world number 46 Kevin Streelman this time, and along with Scott, has enjoyed an ideal preparation after playing the Australian Masters at the same course.
Scott and Kuchar engaged in an enthralling final-round shootout on Sunday, with the American coming back from five strokes behind to seize the lead before stumbling on the last few holes to gift the local hero the title by two strokes.
"To at least give him a run it was awfully good," said 35-year-old Kuchar. "Last week is forgotten about and the same goes for Adam... He won and that helps with confidence but you have got to do it all over again."
Despite the Olympic-style format and the added carrot of world ranking points at stake for the first time, the revamped tournament has failed to lure the biggest names from America and Europe.
Former major winner Graeme McDowell, who represented Ireland with fellow Ulsterman Rory McIlroy at the 2011 tournament, has returned but will play with 75th-ranked Shane Lowry at Royal Melbourne rather than the world number six.
Apart from the 26 teams competing in the 60-man field, eight players will compete individually, including former world number one Vijay Singh, who warmed up for the tournament with a third-place finish at the Australian Masters. (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)