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Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell enjoying US riches

By Karl MacGinty

Amid all the tub-thumping and horn-tooting for European golf, let’s get something straight.

When it comes to financial clout, the US PGA Tour weighs in at super-heavy, making it European counterpart look like a useful light-welter.

For sure, European Tour members have been punching brilliantly above their weight on the golf course recently.

They currently hold three of the four Major titles and, after last September’s heroics at Celtic Manor, the Ryder Cup is back where it belongs.

Right now, the top four players in the World Rankings all hail from Europe and the leading two, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, plus No 8 Rory McIlroy, have seen no need to apply for US PGA Tour membership in 2011.

Back in 1992, of course, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal, Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer were the world’s top five.

Yet there were no other Europeans in the top-20 back then and a tally of 10 in the elite top-50 was dwarfed by 29 representing the US.

At present, Europeans, including World No 4 Graeme McDowell, outnumber US golfers by 6-4 in the top-10 and by 18-16 in the top-50.

Clearly, European golf has never had it so good.

The opportunity to hone their skills in a wide array of playing conditions around the planet has helped the European Tour’s finest to become well-rounded competitors.

And with nearly 40 per cent of US Tour cards currently held by international players, teeing it up in America no longer induces culture shock. Instead, European stars firmly believe they can win on any given Sunday in the States.

However, the spectacular success of Europe’s players cannot obscure reality.

Our stars may be rising on the fairways but in financial terms, the European Tour is involved, year-by-year, in such a dogged hand-to-mouth battle for survival, it offers no threat to its US counterpart.

Texan Gary Woodward collected a cheque for $900,000 at the climax to the Transitions Championship on Sunday as he became the third first-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, while the overall prize fund at The Copperhead was $5.5m.

By comparison, Raphael Jacquelin of France pocketed little more than a quarter of that amount, €166,660 (or $235,947), after wrapping-up a one-stroke victory over Anthony Wall as the inaugural Sicilian Open concluded yesterday morning.

Once again this week, a modest €1m ($1.416m) purse on offer at the Open de Andalucia in Malaga will be dwarfed by the $6m prize fund at Arnie Palmer’s Invitational in Bay Hill.

Excluding the Majors and World Golf Championships, the US and European Tours will both stage 43 tournaments in 2011, with $219m to be played for at the American events and $117m on Europe’s worldwide international roster.

Indeed, that European figure must be guesstimated as details for several events, notably August’s Irish Open, have yet to be confirmed.

While the US Tour occasionally must carry an old favourite through hard times, notably the Bob Hope, their resources are so vast in comparison to Europe, they don’t have to sweat as much blood simply to get the show on the road each year.

For example, as they prepare to negotiate a new contract with networks CBS and NBC, the US Tour is confident it can strike a deal as favourable as the one (worth an estimated at $2 billion-plus over six years) which expires at the end of 2012.

Also, over the past three decades, the PGA Tour has built up a huge, multi-million dollar retirement plan for its members, something which others cannot even dream of offering.

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