Golf: Victims of the new world order
Golf's fast-changing landscape is leaving Europe's pros in the rough.
Sunday 08 November 1998
Montgomerie collected his sixth Harry Vardon Trophy a week ago after the Volvo Masters, which has been the finale to the European season for the last 11 years, and has spent the last few days in a flurry of activity, not least collecting his MBE at Buckingham Palace.
But this time next year Monty will be still hard at work. This Sunday in 12 months time will see the final day of the American Express Strokeplay Championship, the new season- ending event on all the world's tours. Whatever Montgomerie has done at Montecastillo and David Duval at the US Tour Championship the previous week, their crowns as the European and American No 1s will still be up for grabs, especially with a pot of $5m and a minimum of $1m to the winner.
The double-handed end to the official season, which will be staged at Valderrama, has been introduced as one of the new World Golf Championships - three tournaments appearing on the schedule for the first time in response to calls for the best players in the world to meet more often.
They are being staged by the Federation of World Tours and the large prize funds - greater than the majors - and the fact that they will count on the Order of Merit are an attempt to give them instant credibility. They are elite tournaments with restricted fields, leaving those in Europe who will not qualify unhappy.
The Valderrama event will feature the entire 30-man US Tour Championship field but only the top 20 on the European money list, as long as they are in the top-100 on the world rankings, which would have ruled out Mathias Gronberg (10th), Sven Struver (13th), Phillip Price (15th) and David Carter (19th) this year.
Ken Schofield, the executive director of the European Tour who had to face a three-hour players' meeting at Montecastillo, had no choice but to embrace the global expansion of the game. Perhaps Montgomerie is right and the relevance of the European rankings will fade as the world ranking becomes all important, but it is arguable that the European will be the more representative.
Not only the World Championships events but the US Open and the US PGA will be included on the Order of Merit for the first time next year. The US Masters will not because Augusta continues its policy of inviting overseas players rather than endorsing exemption guidelines.
For sure, that means the European money race next year will be decided between the top players like Montgomerie and Lee Westwood - who now have no need to quit Europe to play in America full-time - but at least the battles will include those on the biggest stages in the biggest tournaments rather than be restricted to the playing fields of Europe.
Eligibility for the new tournaments, though not necessarily perfect, is at least based on performance, but the world rankings play an important part. Recently, following a change four years ago that gave US tour events more weighting, Europeans have not shown up well, but the ranking is to be tinkered with again.
"It is not going to have an immediate effect but in time should tilt the pointer back towards Europe," said Schofield. Since only four men really know how the rankings work - one each at the European tour, the US tour and IMG, who administer them, and John Westwood, Lee's father and a retired maths teacher - we will have to wait and see.
The first new event will be the Andersen Consulting Matchplay Championship in San Diego in February and it will feature the top-64 players in the world ranking. Currently, that means around a dozen Europeans and Faldo might only just squeeze in. If he does so in 64th place - he is 67th now - watch for him playing the world No 1 Tiger Woods.
As a result of Seve Ballesteros' lobbying, the Ryder Cup Committee are to consider capping the number of points available, which is usually on a point for pound basis. This is typical Ballesteros. When he was one of the few to play in the American majors, he lobbied successfully for their inclusion in the Ryder Cup table.
The next WGC event is the most unsatisfactory. It is transparently a backhanded way of paying Ryder Cup players as it is they, plus their Presidents' Cup counterparts from America and the Rest of the World, who will play in a four-round strokeplay event at Firestone in Akron, Ohio.
Not only will the wild card selections of the various captains - based on their ability to play in team matchplay competitions - earn a place in the new tournament but their qualification will be for two years until the next team is decided. The date is also wrong, for it follows two weeks after the US PGA Championship in Chicago and the week after the European Ryder Cup team is finalised in Munich.
The chances are that Europeans chasing a place in the team will be exhausted before they even get to Brookline for the Ryder Cup. The guiding hand of Tim Finchem, the US tour commissioner, is apparent and he has also made sure the American Express event detracts as little as possible from his own Tour Championship's position as the season's finale in America.
It will be played at Valderrama for three of the first four years, just down the road from Montecastillo, blatantly overshadowing the Volvo Masters. The Swedish car company's contract with the European Tour expires after next season and so far the only news is that discussions are taking place.
Volvo might decide that it is not worth specially staging a tournament if it is not going to be the finale to the ranking that they also sponsor. Instead, they could put the funds into further boosting the Volvo PGA Championship and making it, along with the Players' Championship, WGC events in all but name. Welcome to the world tour.
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