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European Ryder Cup team may be weakened

Jesper Parnevik, one of Europe's Ryder Cup mainstays over the last decade, is back in the form that helped make him a scourge of the Americans but he will be watching September's match in Michigan from behind the ropes.

Luke Donald, arguably England's finest prospect since the turn of the century, is similarly likely to be out of the fray for the game's biggest team competition.

Neither the Swede or the Englishman has developed such a sudden love of the Stars and Stripes or loathing of the continent of their birth that the thought of going into sporting battle against the U.S. is too dreadful for them to contemplate.

Quite the opposite. Both are fit, ready, willing and able to take on Hal Sutton's 12 at Oakland Hills Golf Club from September 17-19.

They will miss out because both as reasonably astute businessmen as well as talented golfers, they have figured that they stand more chance of making big money on the U.S. PGA tour than their home European Tour circuit. And there lies the rub.

Sunday's Wachovia Championship winner, Joey Sindelar, trousered $1.08 million in Charlotte, North Carolina while Barry Lane was collecting a cheque for roughly half of that for clinching the biggest title of his career, the British Masters at the Forest of Arden on the same day.

The problem is that the European Ryder Cup committee has decided that only players who take part in 11 counting events on their home tour can be considered for selection against the Americans.

True, that includes four major tournaments -- the U.S. Masters, U.S. and British Opens and the U.S. PGA Championship -- plus three other events from the jointly-sanctioned World Championship of Golf series which are only open to the top 50 in the world.

That leaves Euro Ryder Cup wannabes needing to play at least four "regular" European Tour events between now and the end of October.

But for Parnevik and Donald, both struggling to improve their world ranking in leaps on the U.S. Tour rather than hops on their home continent, that is four too many.

Neither is happy about the situation. Nor are Sergio Garcia, like Parnevik a Ryder Cup winner last time around in 2002, and the fast-improving Alex Cejka of Germany who are both concentrating on the U.S. Tour and could soon find themselves in similar positions.

Bernhard Langer, the U.S.-based European Ryder Cup skipper for 2004, has spoken of his desire to have Parnevik and Donald in the frame at least for selection but has publicly toed the official line that his team should have played 11 European events.

The situation will leave many in the sport scratching their heads. Why would Europe, underdogs against a team packed with higher world-ranked players, handicap themselves like this?

Imagine telling England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, for instance, that he can't pick David Beckham or Owen Hargreaves for Euro 2004 because they haven't played enough games in their home country this season.

A recent interview with Reuters suggested that the European Ryder Cup committee are unlikely to soften their position. Ken Schofield, the Tour's executive-director, hinted that far from easing their qualification position they might in future years actually demand more European circuit appearances from potential team members.

Their motivation is clear, of course. Schofield and the rest of the European Tour chiefs want to see the world's top players -- especially the dwindling number of Europeans who fall into that bracket -- playing on their circuit to attract the fans and, more importantly, the sponsors.

If they can use the Ryder Cup as a carrot to persuade the likes of Parnevik, Donald, Garcia and Cejka to come home, albeit infrequently, during the long 10-month season then they will obviously do it even if it means a hefty pay cut for the players.

The danger is that if Schofield and co. stretch the point too far, then the competitiveness of the Ryder Cup could be damaged in the process.

Since their Ryder Cup wins over the 1980s and 1990s and again in 2002 have been the finest advert that European golf could dream up, that would be a disastrous outcome for everybody.

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