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Internationals doing ever better on PGA Tour

Back before Trinidad and Tobago was churning out world-ranked golfers, before Mike Weir was the second-best player in Canada, and even before members of both Ryder Cup teams became neighbors in Orlando, there was the PGA Tour and the European Tour.

Guys named Fred played on the PGA Tour, and guys named Fredrik played on the European Tour. Jeffs played in America, and Geoffs played in Europe. So if your first name was Vijay, Retief or Jesper, the odds of you leading the PGA Tour in birdie conversion percentage were almost zero.

Now, 62 international players compete full time on the PGA Tour, and nine others play a limited schedule.

There are almost as many Tour pros from Australia and South Africa living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as there are Tour pros from Texas.

Even more significant, international players occupy seven of the top 10 spots on the PGA Tour money list. The only Americans in the top 10 are Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Davis Love III.

Stephen Ames' victory at last week's Cialis Western Open marked the fifth straight win by an international player. The last time an American won a Tour event was David Toms at the FedEx St. Jude Classic on May 30.

Since then: Ernie Els got his second win of the season at Memorial; Sergio Garcia got his second win at the Buick Classic; Retief Goosen got his second U.S. Open title in the last four years; Adam Scott got his second win of 2004 at the Booz Allen Classic; and Ames, a native of Trinidad and Tobago now living in Canada, broke through for his first victory.

International players have won 14 of the first 27 tournaments.

It used to be that only a handful of international players, usually just the best ones, competed with any regularity in the United States.

Twenty years ago, only three international players finished in the top 50 on the money list, and just two occupied the top 10. In 1994, Nick Price and Greg Norman finished 1-2, but still, only five international players ranked in the top 50.

Ernie Els, with his globetrotting success, influenced a lot of players to compete on both tours, meeting the required minimum to maintain membership.

Those who wanted to measure their games against the world's best, or compete for the biggest purses, realized the PGA Tour was the place to be. So they got second homes here.

Fiji's Singh, Jesper Parnevik of Sweden, and Australians Stuart Appleby and Robert Allenby were making names for themselves -- as well as big money -- playing and living in the United States. Other Aussies and Swedes took notice.

By 2000, four international players resided in the top 10 in earnings, and 14 ranked in the top 50. Sixteen Australians and eight Swedes are fulltime members.

In addition to improving the level of competition, going global has bolstered the Tour in negotiating television contracts and broadening its scope in marketing and sponsorship. American fans also have a more diverse group of players to choose from.

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