AP News

A competition better than the Ryder Cup

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — The Memorial has come a long way since its inception three decades ago, mostly because the players have traveled a long way to get here. They come from every continent where golf is played, representing 15 countries.

Then again, it's like that just about every week on the PGA Tour.

That's good news for Tim Finchem, commissioner of the richest and most powerful golf tour in the world.

It is becoming a problem for George O'Grady, commissioner of a European Tour that is losing its players, if not its identity.

The Wales Open this week has but one of the top 10 players in the world — Retief Goosen — and four of the top 50. Most of the European-born stars are at Muirfield Village, from Luke Donald to Paul Casey, from Sergio Garcia to Jose Maria Olazabal. The Irish Open wasn't much better, coming one week after The Players Championship.

"We're not in conflict with the PGA Tour," O'Grady said last week at the BMW Championship, the flagship event on the European Tour. "The PGA Tour opened their doors to the best golfers in the world, made them welcome."

And those players gladly walked through the door.

That's worth keeping in mind during a U.S.-Europe competition that is becoming far more compelling than the Ryder Cup.

Golf has never been more global, but that takes on different meaning depending on the tour. The European Tour is global because of where it goes, a schedule that touches five continents. The PGA Tour is global because of the players it gets.

The PGA Tour, clearly, is the rising tide in golf. The question is whether it is lifting all ships, or drowning them.

Vijay Singh stirred the pot last week at Wentworth when he said the BMW Championship was "even bigger" than The Players Championship. Singh went on to say he was saddened that Europeans had no trouble traveling to Sawgrass for The Players, but hardly any Americans bothered coming over to Wentworth.

"I would like to see a lot more Americans coming over and trying to play this tournament," Singh said.

What he conveniently failed to explain was why it was only the third time in the last 10 years he played the BMW Championship if he had such strong feelings for the tournament. And perhaps the simple explanation why Europeans come to The Players Championship is that most of them are joint members of the European and PGA tours.

Still, it exposed a growing divide between the tours, and how the Federation of PGA Tours is no longer effective.

The federation was formed 11 years ago primarily to oversee the World Golf Championships, which sounded like a great idea when they were being staged all over the world. Now the three that count toward official money are played in Arizona, Florida and Ohio, and they are under contract through 2012.

The one that used to rotate between the United States and Europe was folded into an existing PGA Tour event at Doral, which turned out to be a double whammy. It not only knocked out dozens of rank-and-file U.S. players, it handed America yet another "world" event.

Singh raised the idea that the BMW Championship — a world-class event on a championship course as good as any — could not be packaged as a WGC event, perhaps attracting more Americans.

Never mind that too many Americans stayed away even when there were WGC events in Ireland and Spain and London.

"We offered one or two events we considered suitable to be WGC tournaments but the PGA Tour flatly refused to consider them," said Keith Waters, director of international policy for the European Tour.

Ed Moorhouse, co-chief operating officer at the PGA Tour, recalls preliminary talks about a WGC event the week before or after the British Open, but it never got beyond that.

"It's fair to say we didn't go into a lot of details because it was fairly obvious they didn't want to entertain a WGC in Europe," Waters said in a telephone interview. "It was most disappointing."

The tournament that got most of the attention was Loch Lomond, home of the Barclays Scottish Open held a week before the British Open. Loch Lomond was interested, and Waters said he was certain Barclays would have been willing to up the ante.

One reason the PGA Tour balked was it had obligations to the John Deere Classic, held the same week in Illinois.

That's why the federation has run its course. It's hard to take it seriously when Finchem, who heads up the federation, has too many competing interests.

A new WGC event is planned for China starting in 2009, and Moorhouse said it can rotate out of China every other year, which could mean going to Europe or Australia. That rings hollow, because Europe doesn't have a lot of options in November except for southern Spain or France, Portugal or the Middle East, where the Dubai Classic, Qatar Masters and Abu Dhabi are holding their own.

Perhaps the direction for Europe is to come up with its own version of the WGCs.

O'Grady mentioned joining forces with Japan, South Africa, Asia and Australia to create "a hugely strong alternative to the PGA Tour."

"The idea of amalgamating with other tours to put on a really attractive schedule by whatever name we call it is one that we are in the final stages of refining," he said.

One possibility is a series of events similar to the WGCs that would be jointly sanctioned by everyone except the PGA Tour.

But just like anything else, its strength would be determined by who shows up.

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