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Season's climax all about money

Don't expect to hear any cries of "Yankee, Go Home'' this week.

Most of them are already there.

The idea was to bring together the best players in the world, and the sight of Tiger Woods at Valderrama Golf Club certainly gives the season-ending American Express Championship the one thing a $5 million purse couldn't -- credibility.

"It's still a world-class field because we have the world's best player here,'' Scotland's Colin Montgomerie said. "And that's very important."

Otherwise, this event is missing a big chunk of the world.

Twelve of the 29 Americans who qualified for the tournament -- eight ranked in the top 20 in the world -- decided not to come.

They had no chance of winning the PGA Tour money title, since Woods wrapped that up nearly three months ago, and no desire to cross the Atlantic for one tournament at the end of a long year, even one with such a large purse.

"The thing is, $1 million to them is not a huge amount of money,'' Darren Clarke said of the first-place check. "If it was $2 million, maybe then that would get them.''

Maybe not.

Four players from the PGA Tour have cracked the $3 million mark, at least a dozen will have surpassed $2 million and a record 44 players made at least $1 million.

In Europe, where the largest purse would be considered chump change in America, only Clarke and Westwood have gone over $2 million.

The message this week is that money alone no longer promises prestige, especially when the World Golf Championships move around the world.

"It's a very difficult situation,'' Montgomerie said. "They're not majors. We have to accept that. People do turn up for majors.''

At least Woods turned up at Valderrama, where he won last year in dramatic fashion.

Despite a triple bogey on the par-5 17th, he got into a playoff with Miguel Angel Jimenez and won on the first extra hole by making birdie under the floodlights as the Spanish Civil Guard lined the fairway.

Woods is on a tour around the world, and never thought twice about coming back.

"I've always figured in order to be the world's best, you have to play around the world,'' Woods said. "You have to win in various countries and various conditions. To me, that's just part of the educational process of playing the game of golf.''

Indeed, Woods has delivered a textbook performance.

Already this year, he has won nine of the 20 tournaments he has played worldwide, won three straight majors and completed the career Grand Slam at the ripe age of 24.

And while he already has turned in one of the greatest years in golf, he still has two more targets at Valderrama -- becoming the first player in 50 years to win at least 10 times on the PGA Tour, and becoming golf's first $10 million man.

"It was one of my goals at the beginning of the year, a very good goal,'' he said.

Ultimately, money remains the biggest issue this week -- on both sides of the Atlantic, on and off the course.


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