PGA Tour changes rules for Westwood's benefit

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The Independent Online

A measure of how far British golf has risen and, perhaps how far American golf has fallen, was provided here by Lee Westwood yesterday, when he revealed that the US Tour has changed its rules in their desperation to avoid the world No 1 missing its flagship event.

Three weeks ago, Westwood's manager, Chubby Chandler, received a call from Florida HQ informing him that, as the Englishman had resigned his American membership, he would only be allowed to play in two regular PGA Tour events, in addition to the four majors, the three official World Golf Championships and The Players. "Those are the rules," said Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour's senior vice president of tournament admission.

That should now read "those were the rules". Westwood's people rang back the Tour to explain he was considering not entering The Players, meaning he could play three regular events, and needless to say the Tour acted. "I don't think anybody would have wanted that – the PGA Tour or the sponsors," said Westwood.

Indeed, the thought of the game's top-ranked player not appearing in the Sawgrass spectacular the Tour has long tried to promote as "the fifth major", would have sent shivers down its collective spine. "They have now put the Players in a bracket all of its own," said Westwood. "I guess that was a way of getting around it." The Americans will hope so as apparently Rory McIlroy, the young Ulsterman who has also ripped up his PGA Tour card, has been wondering whether to play at Sawgrass.

Little wonder, therefore, that George O'Grady, the European Tour's chief executive, was all smiles when asked to comment about the news that Martin Kaymer, the world No 3, has decided not to take up PGA Tour membership. "We are delighted he continues to show such loyalty," said O'Grady. For Kaymer the choice was easy. "Schedule-wise it doesn't fit to play both," said the USPGA winner. "I consider the European Tour my home – you have all of the great players here."

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and others may disagree, although it is true that seven of the world's top 11 are European (six of whom are from the United Kingdom) and all of them are here at the Dubai World Championship, contesting what used to be known as the "Order of Merit" finale. And if Kaymer wins this week, he will not only be crowned European No 1 but the world No 1.

It is one almighty carrot to dangle in front of a 25-year-old, but it is one he seems determined to grasp. "If I win here, everything will take care of itself," he said. Not quite. If he wins and Westwood comes second he will only leapfrog Woods into No 2 spot; and if Kaymer finishes second he needs Westwood to come outside the top 26. There are even more permutations in the Race To Dubai.

Win and Kaymer scoops £1.7m in prize money, but if he comes second and Graeme McDowell, the US Open victor, prevails, he will lose the Harry Vardon Trophy to the Ulsterman and "only" scoop £1.2m. McDowell could actually finish third and prevail in the money list, although this would entail Kaymer trailing in outside the top 20. Whatever, it could easily come down to fractions and in Westwood's opinion they are all that will separate these two major champions. "I was asked to name my golfer of the year, but it's very difficult to choose between them," he said. "It's all on this week."

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