Is the PGA Tour still the strongest tour in the world?
The European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the United Arab Emirates will dwarf the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Classic in star power this week.
With so many Euros climbing over PGA Tour players in the world rankings, there promises to be more focus on the other side of the pond this year than golf’s accustomed.
The Bob Hope Classic? The event will host zero players in the top 10 in the world rankings and two (Matt Kuchar and Tim Clark) among the top 30.
Overall, though, the PGA Tour will win this game of comparative strength of fields through 2011.
The European Tour had the stronger field – by virtue of more world ranking points – just nine times when going head to head with PGA Tour events a year ago.
The PGA Tour had the stronger field 23 times in head-to-head events.
Look for the same trend this year.
When it comes to money, the PGA Tour also dwarfs the European Tour. The PGA Tour played for $270 million in prize money a year ago, the European Tour $170 million. The difference will be essentially the same this year. Even this week, the PGA Tour towers over the European Tour in prize money. The Bob Hope Classic ($5 million) is offering nearly double the prize money of Abu Dhabi ($2.7 million). Of course, that doesn’t include lucrative “appearance fees” hidden in sidelight incentives in Abu Dhabi.
Yet, if golf’s really all about the major championships, if that’s where you truly measure the game’s greatness, the European Tour is the strongest tour in the world. It’s the strongest by virtue of the fact that its members won three of the four major championship titles last year with Europe also winning the Ryder Cup.
What’s at stake between the tours this week?
Germany’s Martin Kaymer can’t climb to No. 1 with a victory at Abu Dhabi, but he can climb over Tiger Woods and seize the No. 2 world ranking.
If that happens, it will mark the first time Europeans have ranked Nos. 1-2 in the world in more than 17 years.
The Euros last held the top two spots with Nick Faldo at No. 1 and Bernhard Langer No. 2 on July 18, 1993.
It’s also possible Europeans could walk away from Abu Dhabi holding three of the top four spots in the world should Graeme McDowell also bump Phil Mickelson. They both enter the week tied at No. 4 in the world.
What big blow could the PGA Tour strike this week?
Mickelson makes his first start of the year at Abu Dhabi.,
He may rank co-No. 4 in the world, but it will feel like an upset going overseas and winning with so many of the top Europeans playing that tour’s first big event of 2011. He’d spoil the big party the Euros have been having over their rising status.
It’s a tall order with Mickelson making his first start in more than two months.
Where are the two tours pointed at the top of the world rankings?
If Tiger Woods finds his best form, the PGA Tour’s pointed toward more dominance.
Woods is the PGA Tour trump card who beats all comers when he’s right in the head, the heart and the body.
If Woods isn’t, the European Tour’s formidably poised for a continued run with so many of its players in their prime while the PGA Tour’s beginning to look old at the top.
The average age of the top four Americans in the world rankings is 39.
The average age of the top four Europeans is 31.
Woods (35), Mickelson (40), Steve Stricker (43) and Jim Furyk (40) are the USA’s top four.
Lee Westwood (37), Martin Kaymer (26), Graeme McDowell (31) and Paul Casey (33) are Europe’s top four.
The PGA Tour has Dustin Johnson (26), Anthony Kim (25) and Rickie Fowler (22) as future stars with terrific potential.
The European Tour has Kaymer, Rory McIlroy (21) and Matteo Manassero (17) poised to lead future runs.
What’s the Ryder Cup forecast?
Jose Maria Olazabal was named the European Ryder Cup captain on Tuesday, and Davis Love III will be officially introduced as the next American captain on Thursday.
Love and the Americans should have plenty to motivate them for the 2012 matches at Medinah.
In Europe, they’re boasting they’re already 1 up.
Olazabal is 18-8-5 in Ryder Cup matches, Love is 9-12-5.
Olazabal is 4-1 in head-to-head matches against Love in Ryder Cup play, though they’ve never met in singles.
Those numbers don’t mean so much with the nature of the players who will compete under these captains meaning more, but we’ve seen captains appear to make the difference in evenly handicapped matches before.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell