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Players Championship to count for Europe ?

Colin Montgomerie has called for the Players Championship, the most prestigious stroke-play tournament in golf after the four majors, to be officially recognised by the European Tour and to count in future seasons towards both the Order of Merit and qualification for Europe's Ryder Cup team.

As the world's top golfers gathered in Florida for the 28th staging of the Players, which begins at Sawgrass on Thursday, Montgomerie's innovative suggestion was warmly received by Ken Schofield, the executive director of the European Tour, who was quick to lend encouragement.

A precedent was first set for co-operation between the US Tour and the European Tour when the Americans included the Open on their money list.

As more and more European members gained entry to the Masters, the US Open and the US PGA, the European Tour reciprocated by making the three American majors a part of their official schedule.

The move towards adding a more global dimension to the game was then further enhanced when the US and European Tours got together with the rest of the international federations to create the World Championship series.

This season the Accenture World Match Play, the NEC Invitational and the American Express Championship will help to decide who finishes No1 in both the US and Europe. All three offer prize funds of $5 million and usually draw the best players.

It's fair to say, though, that none of those events can match the quality of field or status of the tournament run by the US Tour at its headquarters near Jacksonville, Florida. It may not be a major by name yet, but the Players Championship is universally recognised as one of the most prized titles in the game.

"I believe there are almost as many European Tour members competing in the Players Championship as there are in the three World Championship events so why not recognise the Players?" asked the man from Troon.

"As at our Volvo PGA, the top 50 golfers in the world are now eligible to take part here, which means access is available at the TPC for golfers who are not members of the US Tour. I think it's a fantastic week, to win would be massive, and I believe the idea of including the Players Championship on the European Tour's international schedule is worth considering."

On hearing of Monty's views, Schofield gave his countryman's suggestion the thumbs-up. Asked if he could envisage a time when the Players Championship was part of the European Tour, the executive director replied: "Yes, I believe there is a very strong case for that, provided we get sufficient access. If that's what Colin is saying then I accept his views.

Montgomerie is in favour of making the Players Championship a co-sanctioned event . Allsport.

"The Players already takes the top 50 in the world, and there are other ways of playing your way in. Speaking personally, I tend to agree with what Colin is talking about.

"The Players has been established in the one place for 20 years now, and they have a super event on a fantastic stadium course."

At a time when an increasing number of European golfers are spending more time in the US, one benefit of recognising the Players is that it would make it easier for future captains of Europe's Ryder Cup team to have their strongest individuals qualify for the team. There would also be a boost for the US Tour since international recognition could nudge the event even closer to major status.

Since finishing second behind Fred Couples in 1996 he was joint third last year Montgomerie has consistently produced some of his best form in the Players Championship. In all, he has posted five top ten finishes and earned over $845,000 at the TPC.

Curiously, the tournament has only been won once by a European, 14 years ago, when Scotland's Sandy Lyle edged out Jeff Sluman in a play-off.

"My record here at Sawgrass stands comparison with anyone's," said Montgomerie. "The reason for that is straightforward I hit the fairways. I particularly enjoy the TPC."

Monty's distance control with his irons is as good as that of any of his peers. When he finds the fairway and has 172 yards to the pin, he invariably hits the ball exactly 172 yards.

He knows the closing holes, with the threat of water, make great theatre. "Yes, the finish is demanding, but really you can have a disaster anywhere," he reflected. "That's why my feeling is that if you win the Players Championship, you might just as well have won a major."

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