Money talks as Euro stars opt for the Orient

THE European Tour and sponsors, the Andalucian Tourist Board, must have been furious the Andalucian Masters was bypassed by many marquee names in favour of the Shanghai Masters.

That Chinese event is not recognised by any of the game’s major Tours and accordingly didn’t carry any world ranking, European Tour Race to Dubai or Ryder Cup points.

However, the lure of the mighty dollar — the event in China carried a prize fund of $5m (€3.5m), with $2m (€1.42m) for the winner, and substantial appearance money for the elite 30-strong field — proved too great for a number of Europe’s finest.

For the European Tour, struggling to retain sponsors and attracting new companies, it was a kick in the teeth.

They desperately need the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Pádraig Harrington, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter to compete on a regular basis in their events. They are five very wealthy individuals who surely didn’t need the money on offer in a Chinese event that few golf fans had heard of. For any tourist board to come up with a purse of €3m in such economic times is a tremendous effort and entitles them to unstinting support. However the European Tour insist their hands are tied and that they can only urge members to support their tournaments.

Tour officials at Wentworth are working hard to find replacement sponsors for several tournaments — such as the Scottish Open on the week preceding the Open Championship and which recently lost the support of Barclays Bank. They are hopeful of finding an alternative, just as they are in terms of the Irish Open and other tournaments. The European Open, the TPC of Europe and the English Open, to mention three, haven’t been played for several years.

One can only imagine what the Irish Open field this year would have been like without the four Irish major winners, McIlroy, Harrington, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell. Few other big names turned up. Already, there are reports that McIlroy is a doubtful starter for 2012 as the new date at the end of June clashes with the AT&T at Congressional Country Club where he captured this year’s US Open.

The Tour have so far published only the first six months of the 2012 schedule. This clearly underlines the difficulties under which they are operating.

The redeeming feature of Valderrama for the tourist board was the latest outstanding performance by Sergio Garcia and his weekend duel with his fellow Spaniard Miguel-Angel Jimenez. It must have been so gratifying to see two fine golfers and charismatic personalities do battle in front of large, passionate crowds in glorious sunshine on a superb and testing golf course.

This week, four Irishmen, McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Michael Hoey (courtesy of his recent victory in the Dunhill Links) are in Shanghai for the final World Championship of the season, the $7m (€4.9m) HSBC at Sheshan International.

McIlroy has a great chance of narrowing the gap on the absent Luke Donald (his wife, Diane, is due to give birth to their second child this week) at the top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai order of merit, given his outstanding form since the beginning of September. In that time he had finished second twice and third twice before edging home in Shanghai at the weekend.

He is 1,312,823 points behind Donald but victory in Shanghai would reduce that to around 300,000 with some very lucrative events still to be played. Tiger Woods and Pádraig Harrington haven’t qualified, Phil Mickelson isn’t bothered and Sergio Garcia’s two magnificent wins in Spain have come too late to make it attractive enough for him to make the trip east. All four major winners, Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy, Clarke and Keegan Bradley are there, along with previous WGC winners this year, Nick Watney (Cadillac) and Adam Scott (Bridgestone).

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