They did everything but strike muscle-men poses Tuesday at the Dubai World Championship while taking photos with all the impressive hardware they’ve won this past year.
The U.S. Open trophy, the British Open’s claret jug, the PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy and the Ryder Cup are all in possession of European Tour members, and the European Tour brass isn’t being shy in its display of them at the season finale to the Race to Dubai.
Throw in the fact that Westwood’s the No. 1 player in the world, and you’ve got a pretty good picture why the European Tour believes it has never been stronger.
If not for Phil Mickelson winning the Masters, the European Tour would have made a clean sweep of the biggest international prizes in golf.
“I think you play against the best players in the world, with the No. 1 in the world, Lee Westwood, with Rory McIlroy,” Kaymer said Tuesday in explaining why he’s joining Westwood and McIlroy in devoting himself to the European Tour next year.
“You have all of the great players here,” Kaymer said.
European media are having fun with this shift in the balance power.
During Kaymer’s news conference Tuesday, a reporter asked Kaymer if he received a “crying phone call from Tim Finchem” after announcing he would continue to devote himself to the European Tour.
“Not yet, maybe I’ll get one,” Kaymer answered.
Kaymer could water some eyes in the PGA Tour offices with a big finish this week. Westwood bumped Tiger Woods to No. 2 last month. Kaymer could bump Woods to No. 3 with a good finish this weekend.
It’s possible Westwood and Kaymer will leave Dubai ranked Nos. 1-2 in the world. That could happen with either Westwood or Kaymer at No. 1.
Westwood shared news Tuesday that the PGA Tour was changing its rules for players who give up PGA Tour membership but plan to participate as non-members. Under PGA Tour rules, non-members are limited to 12 PGA Tour appearances, including majors and World Golf Championships. However, non-members who have given up PGA Tour membership face more severe restrictions. They’re limited to 10 PGA Tour appearances. Westwood and McIlroy fall into the more severe restrictions.
Under the new rules, PGA Tour officials confirmed, Westwood and non-members like him won’t have to count The Players Championship against their 10 appearances. So Westwood and McIlroy can play 11 next year.
How that news was conveyed to Great Britain’s golf fans Tuesday reflects the new strength European golf’s feeling.
“The concession to Westwood, who snubbed the PGA Tour in fairly forthright terms, lends weight to the belief that the tectonic plates of global golf are shifting to the disadvantage of an organization which has long been the richest and most powerful entity in the sport,” wrote Lawrence Donegan of the Guardian. “It is hard to imagine a day when that financial strength will be challenged, but how powerful is the PGA Tour these days when it backs down so meekly in an attempt retain favor with an Englishman, albeit the world's No. 1 player?”
For a time, European Tour fans endured an insult from America, the notion that the Nationwide Tour was the second best tour on the planet. Nobody’s saying that now.
Still, PGA Tour players defend their turf.
“The European Tour definitely has gotten stronger the last few years,” says Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open champ who played the European Tour as member for two seasons. “The players have definitely gotten better. The European Tour fields have gotten stronger.
“But, our tour, top to bottom, it’s a little bit deeper. Their top echelon of players are just as good, if not better, than ours right now. The top 125 on our tour are probably better than theirs.”
So which is the stronger tour today?
If you follow the money, you follow it to the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour played for purses totaling $270 million this season. The European Tour plays for $170 million.
If you look at the world rankings, the PGA Tour also prevails. PGA Tour pros played for 17,000 world ranking points this year. The European Tour plays for 12,000.
There were 32 PGA Tour and European Tour events that went head-to-head this year. The PGA Tour had more world ranking points in 23 of them.
If you throw out the major championships and the World Golf Championship events, and you identify the 15 tournaments with the most world ranking points, the PGA Tour was home to 12 of them. The Players Championship leads that list with the first three FedEx Cup events following. The top European Tour event in this category is the BMW PGA Championship, ranking seventh. The European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship and Commercialbank Qatar Masters are 14th and 15th, respectively.
“The European Tour is probably stronger than it’s ever been, but it’s still not like the PGA Tour,” said five-time PGA Tour winner Scott Verplank. “It’s just not as deep. There are 60 guys who can win on the PGA Tour any week, and I would venture to say there are 30 to 40 over there who can win any week, maybe not that many.
“We play for more money. We have most of the bigger tournaments. It’s an interesting deal, but the European Tour is good. Their top players are every bit as good as anybody else’s.”
What’s the stronger tour?
If major championships are the measure of greatness in golf, the European Tour holds the upper hand with its members winning the last three majors played. The photos coming out of Dubai this week say it all. All that was missing were European Tour pros striking muscle pros.