Price considers joining exodus to American tour

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Phil Price flew back to Europe yesterday clutching the biggest cheque of his life - and wondering whether to join the US Tour.

Phil Price flew back to Europe yesterday clutching the biggest cheque of his life - and wondering whether to join the US Tour.

The 33-year-old from Pontypridd is nearly £290,000 richer after his joint-second place - 11 strokes behind Tiger Woods - in the NEC World Invitational Championship here. Told that the best performance of his career entitles him to play the American circuit next season, Price said: "I didn't know that, but it would definitely interest me. I've been debating with my wife whether we should come over to try to qualify anyway.

"I have to make a decision because I would like to try to make the Ryder Cup, but now I've had a taste of this I'd like some more. I've only ever played two majors over here. I think it would be a great arena for me to develop myself."

With six holes to play Price, whose only Tour victory remains the 1994 Portuguese Open and who entered the event 75th in the world, was five shots behind Woods and two clear in second place, but he bogeyed three of the last four holes to fall back into a tie with Justin Leonard.

The light was already fading when he missed the green at the short 15th and then took six at the 625-yard 16th, and it had almost gone completely when he went from fairway bunker into greenside bunker on the 464-yard last and failed to get up and down.

"The last two shots were a bit of a struggle, but I wanted to get it done," Price said. "Going up the 17th an official said it was our call [on whether to stop for the night], but I think everybody was keen for it to finish. I was a bit anxious, but the experience I gained was invaluable and hopefully the next time I'm in that situation I'll deal with it a little better. I'm disappointed I didn't finish it off nice and clean and I'll probably stew on that one a little bit. But there were so many good things that came out of it I'm going to try to dismiss the tied second."

Price, whose previous biggest cheque was £111,000 for finishing runner-up at the Benson & Hedges International at The Belfry in May, would have picked up £335,683 for outright second. The last-green bogey cost him just over £47,000, but a man who only five years ago finished 110th on the Order of Merit with £58,000 all year has now proved he can shine in the best of company.

If Price does take up a US Tour card and so join Jesper Parnevik, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Nick Faldo, Jean Van de Velde (second after a play-off in Reno on Sunday) and possibly Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Lawrie as well, it would make it even more imperative that the Ryder Cup captain, Sam Torrance, is given more than two wild cards for the 2001 match. The Ryder Cup Committee has only nine days to make that decision as Cup qualifying begins in Switzerland next week.

Woods is the second biggest earner in the history of golf as his victory on Sunday took him to $21m (£14m) worldwide in his four years as a professional. Greg Norman, with $22m, is the only player ahead of him. Woods also has a record points average and record lead over Ernie Els at the top of the world rankings after his eighth win this year and fifth in the last seven starts.