Westwood shrugs off Dubai 'reality check'

European Tour hit by global downturn as prestige event forced to slash purse
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The Independent Online

Having three-putted the final hole to miss out on a play-off at last month's Open Championship, Lee Westwood knows a thing or two about hitting the earth with a bump. So in many ways he was the perfect man to comment on the European Tour's impending announcement of a 25 per cent cut in the purse of what was supposed to be the world's richest tournament. "It's a reality check," said Westwood last night. "Nobody is immune from the credit crunch."

It emerged on Monday that, because of the Emirate state being affected so badly by the global downturn, the much-vaunted $20m (£11.7m) prize fund for the Dubai World Championship will be slashed by $5m (with half coming off the November event's purse and half off the "Race To Dubai" bonus pool). With George O'Grady, their chief executive, due in Dubai this week to conclude tense renegotiations with the sponsors – the government-owned Leisurecorp – the Tour has refused to confirm or deny the story.

However, Westwood has finally ended any pretence the Tour may have wished to maintain, at the same time as revealing that the players had been kept informed about the developments. "I think it's a reality check for everybody that in times like this when there's a credit crunch, people are struggling financially, that nobody is immune," said Westwood in Akron, Ohio, where he will be teeing it up in today's first round of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. "I heard before it all came out in the press that it was going from $10m down to $7.5m. That's still a massive prize."

Despite the embarrassment of the new season-ending spectacular somewhat prematurely losing its celebrated tag of "world's richest", Westwood's pragmatic reaction can be taken as being representative of the European Tour pros. For weeks the rumour had circled the driving ranges that the Sheikhs were ready to pull the plug entirely. Goodness knows what the European Tour would have done then as they have been perceived as putting most of their eggs in the Dubai basket.

As well as the $100m of prize money to be pumped in over five years, there were many other tie-ins which could have accounted for another $100m. How much of that promised investment remains in the "updated" deal remains to be seen although it is understood the contracts will only be three years instead of five. With Buick announcing earlier this week that it was withdrawing its sponsorship from two PGA Tours from next year, nobody in the game – officials or players – is taking anything for granted.

"I'm pretty supportive [of Leisurecorp], in a way, that they're still hanging in there," Westwood said. "You look at a lot of sponsors now. You look at how unfortunate Buick has been over here. We're just lucky to be playing in big tournaments for that kind of money, full stop, whether it's $10m or $7.5m."

This week's purse happens to be $8.5m and with no cut the limited field are all on a guaranteed big-earner. As ever Tiger Woods is the likely recipient of the $1.4m first prize. The world No 1 has won at the Firestone course six times and has prevailed in this event the last three times he has played in it. Woods was impressive in lifting his fourth title of the season in Michigan on Sunday and will be keen to build on this form before next week's USPGA Championship.

Also in Akron is Phil Mickelson, who will be making his first competitive outing in six weeks. The world No 2's wife, Amy, has recently undergone surgery for breast cancer.