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Golf’s big prizes are in Tiger Woods' backyard

By Karl MacGinty

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble . . ! Once you start humming that Mac Davis country classic, it’s almost impossible to get it out of your head.

Especially if you’ve got anything to do with European golf.

After all, three of the four Major titles won by European Tour members in 2010.

The Ryder Cup returned from its brief sojourn in the United States.

Lee Westwood replaced Tiger Woods at the top of the world.

And six players from this side of ‘The Pond’ feature in golf’s global top-10.

These are heady days for Europe and few would dispute Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie’s assertion last week that “never, ever in my 24 years on this Tour have we had the success that we’ve had this year.”

Yet for all our understandable euphoria in Europe, some pretty ominous clouds have been gathering over the world of professional golf especially in the 12 tumultuous months since Tiger’s fall from grace.

From the moment he burst on the US Tour in 1996, Tiger Woods brought boom times to professional golf worldwide.

The sport’s ability to attract sponsorship and generate income from the sale of broadcasting rights soared with the TV ratings in the Tiger era and its impact was felt around the world.

For all the success of European golfers in recent times, the PGA Tour remains the game’s financial powerhouse.

For example, the €205m prizemoney offered at its 46 official events in 2010 dwarfed the €125m available in the 48 tournaments on Europe’s worldwide schedule.

And it should be pointed out that eight of the top nine money tournaments on the European roster in 2010 were co-sanctioned by the US Tour — namely the four majors and four World Golf Championships, which offered a total of €47m in prizemoney.

Take those events out of the equation and prizemoney in the US actually is double that on offer on the European Tour.

Europe’s own €5.446m Dubai World Championship was the only other tournament with a €5m-plus purse, against half-a-dozen in the States.

Just two other events on the European schedule offered purses of €4m-plus, the BMW PGA and Singapore Open, which is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour.

Yet as Tiger struggles to find his kryptonite, the PGA Tour’s TV ratings will continue to plummet, leaving the sport exposed to the full rigours of recession.

PGA Tour Commissioner made optimistic noises about golf’s prospects and how the explosion of exciting and marketable young talent (13 of the world’s top-100 players are aged 25 or under, including three teenagers) offers a bright future for the game.

However, these young players are not emerging quickly enough to fill the massive vacuum left by Tiger’s decline no question, if Woods is not in contention on Sunday at a tournament, the general public just doesn’t want to know.

And in Europe the difficulties facing the Irish Open — without a sponsor since ‘3’ pulled out two years into a three-year deal — demonstrates only too clearly the problems which could all too easily become much more widespread.

Belfast Telegraph

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