Europe’s flagship event has trouble drawing Americans

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Two weeks after the best Europeans came over to Florida for the PGA Tour's premier tournament, the favor is not being returned at the European Tour's flagship event. This is nothing new, and while the BMW PGA Championship offers big world ranking points, there's a massive discrepancy in prize money.

The Players Championship had a $9.5 million purse. Wentworth has a prize fund of about $5.7 million. And those PGA Tour players who want to play this week can always go to Colonial for a $6.4 million purse.

Luke Donald wishes it would attract more Americans, though he understands the reasons not to play.

“You don't have to travel far to play in a $6 million event at a great course at Colonial,'' Donald said at Sawgrass. “But I've always been a proponent of to get the most out of your game, it's important to travel and to experience new places. I think at least go try it once, and if you don't like it, fair enough. But it's a big event on our tour. It's considered our Players Championship of the European Tour. And I would have thought that would incite some interest in some of the big Americans that would be exempt for it.''

Wentworth takes the top 50 in the world ranking, and past major champions.

Two of three Americans in the field do not have full PGA Tour status this year – former PGA champions Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel. The other is former British Open champion Ben Curtis, who did not have a full card until he won the Texas Open last month. Curtis had planned to play in England, and even though his hometown event at the Memorial is next week, he did not back out.

“Both are great tournaments,'' Lee Westwood said of The Players and Wentworth. “Obviously being a European, I hold the BMW PGA in high regard. But after the four major championships, I would put the World Golf Championships, this (Players) and the BMW PGA in another category just below that.''

SPONGE RETURNS: Lee Westwood found a replacement caddie in a sandwich shop on the Gold Coast of Australia.

There's a little more to the story in the Sydney Morning Herald about Mike Waite, who will be filling in for the injured Billy Foster during a critical run of majors for Westwood. Waite is a longtime caddie known as “Sponge'' among his peers. He was on the bag for Michael Campbell's U.S. Open win at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005.

But when Robert Allenby fired him in 2010, Waite decided to quit and spend time with his three young children. He bought a Subway franchise on the Gold Coast, and business is going so well that he has a full staff to run the place. That made Waite think about caddying again, as long as the right opportunity presented itself.

Westwood is about as good an opportunity as there is.

Waite called Foster and asked him to put in a good word. A few weeks later, he called Westwood's manager and was told he was among five finalists. A few hours later, Chubby Chandler rang him and asked, “Have you got visas for UK, Sweden and the US?''

Sponge made his last sandwich on Thursday and headed for Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship. Then, it's off to Sweden and San Francisco for the U.S. Open.

This is the second time Waite has filled in for Foster.

Campbell had to qualify for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, and Waite had nowhere to stay. Foster was caddying in 2005 for Darren Clarke, who had to withdraw because of an injury. Waite wound up taking Foster's place in a house he had booked with four other caddies. It turned out to be a pretty good week.

TIGER'S NIECE: Cheyenne Woods is following in her uncle's footsteps – at least for management.

Excel Sports Management says the niece of Tiger Woods has joined Mark Steinberg's stable of clients. Steinberg has represented Woods since 1999, first at IMG before joining Excel last summer.

Cheyenne Woods was an All-American at Wake Forest, where she set the lowest scoring average in school history and won the ACC Championship by seven shots. She graduated with a degree in communications.

“She had an outstanding career at Wake Forest and has the chance to be a major star on the women's golf scene,'' Steinberg said.

She will seek sponsor exemptions this summer and go to LPGA qualifying school later this year.

USGA LOVES L.A.: Golf fans in Los Angeles are getting the two biggest amateur tournaments just one month apart in 2017.

The USGA announced that Riviera Country Club will host the U.S. Amateur on Aug. 14-20, with nearby Bel-Air Country Club also being used during the two rounds of qualifying to reach the 64 players in match play.

A month later, the Walker Cup goes to Los Angeles Country Club (North Course). All three courses are within about 10 miles of each other.

Riviera, site of the Northern Trust Open on the PGA Tour, will become only the 11th course to host the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur.

MARINO RETURNS: After four months, Steve Marino is ready to get back to golf next week at the Memorial.

Marino had surgery last October to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, and then played three straight weeks to start the 2012 season without mixed results and too much pain. He missed the cut in Honolulu, tied for 19th at the Humana Challenge and tied for 66th at Torrey Pines.

“I tried to play in January, but I experienced a lot of swelling and pain,'' Marino said. “If you try to come back too early, you can do more damage. So I had to learn how to be patient. I have done that, and I have gone through the necessary rehab and now I am eager to get back out on tour.''

Marino is the second player who had surgery in the offseason, played early in the year and wound up taking a big chunk of time off. Dustin Johnson, who last played at Doral, also is scheduled to return at the Memorial.

DIVOTS: The Match Play Championship is returning to Dove Mountain in 2013, and will be played at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for the fifth straight year. … Ben Curtis, a former British Open champion with four PGA Tour wins, was among six athletes to be inducted into the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame last week. Curtis went to Kent State. … UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay was given the Ben Hogan Award on Monday night at Colonial as the top NCAA player in men's golf across all divisions. Cantlay is the second-youngest player to win the award behind Rickie Fowler, who was a freshman when he won in 2008. Cantlay was the low amateur at the U.S. Open and the Masters.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Dicky Pride has earned $1,088,363 in seven starts. In his previous 18 years on the PGA Tour, the most he ever made in a single season was $483,923 in 23 tournaments.

FINAL WORD: “I've liked sharing my life. I think being out there among the people, letting them know you and sincerely wanting to know them, too, is the happier way to go. But everyone has to go his own way.'' – Arnold Palmer in the June issue of Golf Digest.