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$20 million road

TURNBERRY, Scotland – Is the talent drain about to flow the other way? Could we see PGA Tour stars reversing a long trend and start playing more on the European Tour?

Those questions should be worrying PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Those same questions should be giving European Tour executive director George O’Grady warm and fuzzy feelings.

Why the possible exodus? Money, shed loads of it. Forget the credit crunch, the financial meltdown. The European Tour is seemingly immune from such worries at the present moment. The Euro Tour’s partnership with the Dubai-backed Leisurecorp Group has provided the cash cow that will seemingly steer the tour through these troubled financial waters.

Leisurecorp is backing the Race to Dubai to the tune of $140 million over the next five years. There’s a $20 million pot of gold waiting at the conclusion of the Dubai World Championship next year. The elite field 60-player tournament carries a purse of $10 million, with a further $10 million bonus pool paid out to the top 15 players on the European money list.

Also included in the partnership is a nice little treasure chest of $40 million should the tour need it.

Forget the convoluted and ridiculous FedEx Cup. You don’t need an accountancy PhD to figure out the Race to Dubai. All you need to be able to do is count money.

And since tour players are pretty good at that already, it’s no surprise that many players are thinking of joining the richest race in golf.

“I am confident that we will see a real injection of quality into the European Tour. We are going to see bigger names playing,” O’Grady said.

Sergio Garcia helicoptered into Turnberry Oct. 6 to help the European Tour and Leisurecorp get the party started. Garcia is in no doubt Arab oil money will attract bigger names.

“The Tour has clearly moved up a gear in its ability to attract the world’s best players,” Garcia said. “It will certainly help focus the interest of the players. I, for one, will be seeking to get to Dubai and make a great finish to the season.

“I want to be in it and I want to win it.”

Reportedly, so too does Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Robert Allenby. None have yet joined the European Tour, but Allenby made it plain that money doesn’t just talk loudly, it screams.

“You’re talking $20 million. You’d be stupid not to join,” Allenby said.

The Australian also hinted that he wanted a change of scenery after playing the PGA Tour for many years. If that’s the case, then Leisurecorp’s philosophy should get his full attention.

“Our ambition is not necessarily to change the format of golf but to enhance it and make it more relevant to the next generation,” said David Spencer, the chief executive of Leisurecorp. “It is all becoming a bit old hat. There have to be new things to make it more colorful. You have to chase the dream. You have to believe anything is possible.

“We are putting in tons of money. The Race to Dubai has raised the bar in professional golf and has captured the imagination of golfers around the world. We want to impress on players like Sergio Garcia, Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim we are about improving the game and making them bigger players globally.”

For years the European Tour has seen a talent flow to the PGA Tour. Players like Jesper Parnevik, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Robert Allenby, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia have all graduated from the European Tour to base themselves full-time in the United States.

Some, like Parnevik, Scott, Singh and Allenby have turned their backs on Europe completely. Olazabal, Garcia and others have paid mere lip service to the European Tour, doing just enough to maintain membership.

The landscape seems set to change. Garcia says he will play more in Europe, while others are sure to take up Euro Tour membership soon.

With the four majors and three World Golf Championships counting for European Tour membership, all it takes is another five events to fulfil the required 12 events needed to maintain Euro Tour affiliation. And with some sponsors willing to pay huge appearance fees, it’s no huge hardship to the likes of Mickelson, Singh or even Tiger Woods to join the race.

Woods played 10 events that counted towards Euro Tour membership in 2006, nine last year. So it wouldn’t have been much of a stretch to become a full Euro Tour member.

Let’s not kid ourselves by thinking the bigger names will leave the PGA Tour completely. They won’t. But $20 million would influence anyone’s schedule.

The talent tide could be about to turn.

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