WILL A US INFLUX BENEFIT EUROPE?
Carl Markham ponders whether the influx of Americans from the PGA Tour will make 2009 European Tour a better one.
Europe may have lost the Ryder Cup last month but the strength in depth of the continent’s golfers is apparent for all to see.
Even taking away the obvious achievement of Padraig Harrington’s USPGA victory in August to add to his second successive Open title, the best of the rest are not far behind.
With two events remaining on the European Tour there are five players in with a chance of being crowned number one.
And the issue will not be decided until the climax of the season in the Volvo Masters at Valderrama next week – tour bosses could not have wished for a better finish.
Ultra-consistent Swede Robert Karlsson, who played solidly for Europe at Valhalla, tops the pile with two wins and 10 top-10 finishes.
That puts him just ahead of Harrington, who must feel slightly aggrieved that his only two victories this season have both been majors yet are still not enough to put him clear.
The Irishman has only two other top-10 finishes to his credit but, to be fair, he has played fewer events and the exertions of those major wins can often have a knock-on effect later in the season.
Third-placed Westwood is the byword for consistency as, without a win this season, he has been boosted by 12 top-10 finishes.
Jimenez has two wins and seven other top-10s while Stenson, the only one of the quintet playing in the Castello Masters in Spain this week, has 10 top-10s.
A variety of outcomes are possible but Karlsson remains the favourite to claim the title.
This year, of course, will see the last of the old-style Order of Merit competitions. From next season the lucrative Race to Dubai begins.
In a bid to strengthen the tour further, millions of pounds have been invested in the future of European golf.
It could mean the leading player on the European Tour next year is not a European – not a new occurrence after the successes of Ernie Els, Retief Goosen et al, but an increasingly likely one considering the admiring glances and noises being made from across the Atlantic.
Next season there is the possibility of the likes of Phil Mickelson and other big names – Tiger Woods excluded – coming over from the PGA Tour to try to bag the riches on offer.
That then opens up the debate as to whether the influx of these stars will benefit the European game as a whole.
Yes, our players will be facing more of the world’s best but will that increase the chances of the bigger tournaments being won by the chosen few who can afford to take three weeks off to prepare for an event, fly in, play and fly out again?
A sort of Champions League of golf, so to speak.
It will inevitably mean more focus on those tournaments and less on the bread-and-butter events which provide the building block for much of the talent coming through.
At the other end of the scale you have players fighting for their futures as they try to secure their cards for next year.
They are the ones who need the other, less high-profile events, to earn a living by accumulating enough to qualify for another 12-month stint on tour.
The calendar is already packed with events and it would be a shame if , because of the pressures of the big-money tournaments, some were to be lost to ease the congestion.
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