US concessions to Lee Westwood show strength of European Tour

• World No1 can play extra 11th event in the United States
• PGA Tour changed rules to accommodate Englishman

The rewards for being the world No1 go far beyond money and fame, it seems, after Lee Westwood revealed that the PGA Tour has changed its rules to allow him to play an extra event in the United States next year. Earlier this month, officials insisted the Englishman, along with Rory McIlroy, both of whom have declined to take up PGA Tour membership, would only be allowed to play in 10 events on the other side of the Atlantic. "Those are the rules," one said.

Except when they are not, apparently. "I spoke to them last week and I can play three world golf championships [in the US], four majors, the Players Championship and three invites," Westwood said.

The Englishman's problem was that in addition to the 10 most obvious events he also wanted to play in the St Jude Classic in Memphis, a tournament he won last year. "That adds up to 11. I would then have to pick between the Players and Memphis, and I don't think anyone would have wanted that, not the PGA tour or the sponsors."

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 organisation which has long been the richest and most powerful entity in the sport.

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 favour with an Englishman, albeit the world's No1 player?

Changed days indeed, as John Lennon once surmised, and there was even more evidence of that as Martin Kaymer announced that he, like Westwood and McIlroy, had decided not to join the PGA Tour. "Schedule-wise, it just fit for me to play on two tours so I will stick with the European Tour," said the German, winner of this year's PGA Championship and, it so happens, a part-time resident of Phoenix, Arizona.

"I consider the European Tour my home. This is where I feel comfortable. I think you play against the best players in the world [on the European tour]. You have all the great players here."

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both currently lost in a fog of missed putts and personal upheaval, might have something to say about that, as might the PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and his army of public relations advisers, who continue to insist that in reality the decision of leading European players to eschew tour membership in the US will make very little difference; that the likes of Westwood, McIlroy and Kaymer will still be regular performers in the States.

While this is true, it is also the case that perception counts for a lot and at the moment the perception is the PGA Tour is on the back foot, in part because of the economic downturn in the US, which has cost it some sponsors, and in part because most of the best young players in the world are from Europe and elsewhere.

The European tour gathered in readiness for this week's Dubai World Championship, which begins on Thursday and will conclude the 2010 season on Sunday afternoon.

The ugly, building site surroundings of the Jumeirah Golf Estates, which have hardly been touched since last year's tournament, confirmed that not all is yet well with one of the European Tour's biggest sponsors.

Seven of the world's top 11 players are here and, of those, two, Martin Kaymer and the US Open champion Graeme McDowell, have a chance to win £1.42m, half of which would come from winning the season-long Race to Dubai money list and the other half coming from victory in the 72-hole event.

The German, who currently has a £248,000 advantage over the Irishman, also has the incentive of the world No1 ranking, although that will depend on a series of mathematical calculations centring around a less than stellar performance from the always consistent Westwood. Uncertainty reigns as ever, although the Englishman, who will remain world No1 if he finishes either first or second on Sunday, was happy enough to concede title of Europe's No1 golfer in 2010. "Whoever wins the money list deserves the title. They will have won fair and square. No doubt about it," he said.


Lawrence Donegan in Dubai

The GuardianTramp

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