DOHA, Qatar – The growing strength of the European Tour convinced reluctant globe-trotter Steve Stricker to make his Middle East debut at the Qatar Masters this week.
Stricker, who comes in ranked No. 7 in the world, follows on the heels of fellow American Phil Mickelson, who made his debut in the Middle East last month at the Abu Dhabi Championship. Tiger Woods will be returning to play in the Dubai Desert Classic next week.
Stricker acknowledged some of the best golf was being played on the European Tour, adding that he’s looking forward to competing against No. 1 Lee Westwood and No. 2 Martin Kaymer in Doha.
“You’ve got a strong field here, along with other players, Robert Karlsson, past winner from last year,” Stricker said. “Now you’ve got Westwood and Kaymer who have been playing some great golf, and I think it kind of goes in cycles. But right now, obviously the top players are over here in Europe and part of the reason why I came here to try to play well in this event.”
The 43-year-old Stricker acknowledged long-distance journeys were something he passed on in the past and probably were not for everyone on the U.S. PGA Tour – partly due to the fact that the prize money was bigger in the United States and the travel time much shorter.
“I think this week in Phoenix is (richer; $6.1 million to Doha’s $2.5 million), and that’s right in the backyard for most players who live in Phoenix and it’s not far to go no matter where you are in the States,” Stricker said. “The ease of travel is part of the reason I think a lot of guys just stay home and the type of money that we play for is another reason. I think that’s what lures the European players to go over there, too.”
However, Westwood and other top players took Stricker’s presence as a sign of the European Tour’s growing prestige, which he said should help attract more big-name sponsors and, in turn, more prize money.
“The better quality field you can get, the more sponsors set up and are attracted to events,” Westwood said. “I think that’s the same worldwide. We all need to group together, especially at times like this, where people are struggling for cash and don’t have the disposable incomes to put into tournaments.”
Westwood, who lost a singles to Stricker at last year’s Ryder Cup, said the American, a nine-time winner on the U.S. tour, will likely be among those contending for the title.
“He’s been a great player for a long time now,” Westwood said. “His career has followed a similar path to mine where we were both high up in the world rankings and then dropped off and both came back.”