Graeme McDowell will play the PGA Tour full time in 2011.
John M. Heller/Getty Images
Thursday, December 02, 2010

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy have decided to concentrate on the European Tour next year instead of taking up membership in America.

The demise of the PGA Tour?

Not quite.

"The PGA Tour won't miss me," McIlroy said. "Because no one player is bigger than the tour. I don't think it'll miss Lee Westwood. It won't miss Martin Kaymer. You've got so many good players over here. And it's not as if we're not going to be playing in this country."

The 2010 season begins to wind down Thursday with the Chevron World Challenge, which features an 18-man field led by tournament host Tiger Woods and defending champion Jim Furyk.

This has been a golden year for Europe, summed up best in a recent photo from the Dubai World Championship. European Tour chief executive George O'Grady posed with the Ryder Cup, alongside European Tour members Graeme McDowell with the U.S. Open trophy, Kaymer and his PGA Championship trophy and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and the claret jug he won at St. Andrews.

Also in the photo was Westwood, the new No. 1 player in the world ranking.

The perception of a European-American battle beyond the Ryder Cup has been taking shape in recent months, especially when Westwood said he was sticking to his home tour, McIlroy finished a PGA Tour season and decided that was enough for now, and Kaymer decided he was not ready to come to America full-time.

McIlroy attributed that to the media.

"I don't think it's anything else," he said. "I'm not joining the PGA Tour to make a statement, or Lee Westwood is not. It just doesn't fit. It just doesn't work. But that's not to say - I'm 21 years old - that I'm going to never be a member of the PGA Tour again. The whole membership thing, there's been too big a deal made of it.

"It doesn't matter where you play," he said. "You just want to play good golf."

McDowell and Oosthuizen were among those who decided to take up PGA Tour membership, along with Charl Schwartzel of South Africa. That means they will have to play at least 15 tournaments, which is not much considering the four majors, three World Golf Championships and The Players Championships count toward that minimum number.

McDowell played college golf in America (Alabama-Birmingham) and has a home in Orlando, Fla.

"Perhaps I'm a little bit more U.S.-based than some of the guys would be," he said. "But when I look at my schedule for next season, there's very little changes. I'm only going to pick up maybe two to three more events between January and August here in the States. It's really not a hugely difference schedule."

The difference is the FedEx Cup playoffs, a series of four tournaments in a five-week stretch that feature some of the strongest fields of the year. It concludes with the Tour Championship, and the winner gets $10 million from the $35 million in bonus money.

That kind of money isn't available in Europe. But for some Europeans, there's more to golf than money.

One reason Westwood stopped playing so much in America was that August and September - playoff time - is when he prefers to spend time at home with his family. McIlroy found that he pours so much into the major championship season through August that he's ready for a break. Instead, the FedEx Cup requires players to compete six times in a span of eight weeks.

"I love playing over here," McIlroy said. "It's just the time of the year that the playoffs are on over here. How can I put this? It's not as if I wanted to be playing golf over in Europe, I just didn't want to be playing golf at all."

If that's true for others, then it could lead to an interesting trend - the FedEx Cup might be keeping Europeans away.

"Us in the top 50 in the world, we get so much access to come across here and play in the best events anyway," McDowell said. "The only reason to take your tour card is to be part of the tour and play the FedEx Cup playoffs and be part of the money events."

McIlroy figures he'll at least have a better chance at winning the European Tour money title.

A year ago, Adam Scott talked about reducing his European Tour schedule to give himself a better shot at the FedEx Cup. He reasoned that by playing both tours, he was at a disadvantage by playing fewer tournaments in America compared with Woods, Furyk, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson, and fewer events in Europe compared with Westwood, McDowell and Kaymer.

All of them are such good players that it was hard to give that kind of a head start.

"I think if you play both tours, it's very difficult to put yourself in the frame to win one of them," McIlroy said. "I think you should either concentrate on one or the other. I finished 13th in the Race to Dubai this year and finished 36th in the FedEx Cup. I didn't really have a chance to win either of them."

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