Well, well, well, George OGrady really has thrown a cat amongst the pigeons with the announcement on Monday of the Dubai World Championship, the culmination of the inaugural Race for Dubai in 2009. Its the European Tours counter-punch to the PGA TOUR's FedExCup, and I think it brings a hefty blow.
The tournament, though, is more than just an event; this is the beginning of a very complex relationship with the tournaments sponsor, Leisurecorp, a division of Dubai World, a company controlled by the Government of Dubai. Not only will the tour end its season in the Middle East, but it will move its headquarters there, building what it calls a Centre of Excellence. The tours physio truck will be sponsored by Leisurecorp; furthermore, the two organizations will start a property company to develop new venues, something akin to TPC Courses but on a much bigger and grander scale. This is a huge step for the European Tour; it's OGradys legacy as Executive Director.
The tour will also revert back to the calendar year schedule; no more premature starts to the year in November. The Race for Dubai will begin in January 2009, possibly at the Dubai Desert Classic. The events in November and December that currently fall into the next calendar year schedule will either become special events, be reworked into the upcoming season or just fall back to the other co-sanctioning tour. The Volvo Masters is still up in the air. Volvo may decide to move it to another part of the schedule, and the field may be increased and not limited to the season-ending top 60 as it has in the past.
A lot of the talk is centered on the new season-ending event, a $10 million prize fund, and the $10 million bonus pool for the top 15 in the Race for Dubai (the old Order of Merit). The big question is: Will Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson be playing? At the moment the answer is no, they wouldnt have qualified. However, there are a few ways around this. Firstly Tiger plays two more events on the European Tour in 2008 than he did in 2007 and activates his European Tour membership. You see, Woods has only played nine or 10 events in each of the past couple of seasons, just below the minimum 11 to qualify for membership.
This is good news for both the PGA TOUR and European Tour players. Firstly, it keeps the publics attention on Woods being the best the PGA TOUR has to offer. Secondly, he earned enough money from those nine or 10 starts to capture the Order of Merit crown anyway, so by not being a member he gives the others a chance. In 2007 he would have taken the Order of Merit crown before we even arrived at Valderrama.
Also, the Dubai World Championship, like the Volvo Masters, offers four sponsors exemptions. I dont think this is a good idea because it cheapens the Race for Dubai; you want players to play on the European Tour throughout the season, not just in one event.
Another thing, and this will spark the most controversy among players, the minimum event requirement is lowered to nine or 10. This will not happen until at least after the next players meeting in Abu Dhabi next year. Personally, I think the tour should leave things the way they are and let Tiger find an extra couple of starts in Europe. He already has three WGC events and four majors on his schedule -- they all count -- then add the Dubai Desert Classic, the Dubai World Championship, perhaps the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and the HSBC World Match Play, and hes in. Wasnt too hard was it?
As for Mickelson or any other current non-European Tour member, I dont think they have the draw of Woods and with all due respect, does it really matter whether they are in the field?
Lastly, theres a money issue. The FedExCup pays an annuity. Its much larger than the Race for Dubai but the European Tour version will pay cash and players like that. Also, the Race for Dubai doesnt lock players into a playoff system.
Professionals golfers are lone rangers, independent beings who dont have a boss telling them what to do. They dont particularly enjoy Mr. Finchem instructing them to play the PGA TOUR Playoff events for the FedExCup. Nobody is telling them what to do in Dubai. Theyll play their normal schedule, hope for a good year, and then head for the pot of gold in the desert.
Email your thoughts to Tom Abbott