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PGA Tour becoming more and more international

While the European Tour has established itself as a virtual 'world' tour because of its global reach, the PGA Tour is rapidly following suit despite not going beyond its traditional boundaries.

For several decades, the best players from South Africa, Australia and Canada have competed regularly in the United States where more and more top European players are now focusing their tournament schedules.

It was no coincidence that six of the top nine finishers at last week's Heritage Classic at Hilton Head, South Carolina were from countries outside the U.S.

Australia's Peter Lonard triumphed by two shots to clinch his maiden PGA Tour title, Britain's Darren Clarke tied for second, Frenchman Thomas Levet, Canada's Stephen Ames and Australian Rod Pampling shared sixth place and another Australian, Nick O'Hern, ended up ninth.

Of the 16 tournaments played on the 2005 PGA Tour, six have been won by so-called 'international' players -- Australians Stuart Appleby, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Lonard, Fiji's Vijay Singh and Ireland's Padraig Harrington.

This is simply a sign of the times. Player strength is deepening worldwide and the PGA Tour, widely accepted as the acid test of a golfer's credentials, has become an increasingly attractive proposition.

The most lucrative of the international tours, the American circuit has long been accepted as the game's most prestigious and has always attracted the best players.

Three of the year's four majors are staged on U.S. soil and at least two of the season's four World Golf Championships (WGC) events, which are one step down from a major, are played there.

For leading players across the globe, the PGA Tour is the ultimate proving ground.

At this year's U.S. Masters, 45 of the 93-strong field were international players. A decade earlier, that figure was 27 while in 1985 it was just 12.

Although the field for all four majors has opened up in recent years with the emphasis on the world's top 50, former world number one and 2000 Masters champion Singh believes the key difference is greater player strength around the world.

"The U.S. is not the only tour out there," the three-times major winner said before this month's Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

"There are great players from Europe and only a few years ago it seemed to be only Europeans winning over here -- (Nick) Faldo, (Seve) Ballesteros, (Ian) Woosnam, (Sandy) Lyle, (Bernhard) Langer.

"The Masters is a major event, so we should have the best players in the world. It's very, very hard to imagine that, 10 or 20 years ago, there may have been only one or two European players playing over here.

"That tells you how the world of golf is getting stronger."

British Ryder Cup player Luke Donald, who plays most of his tournament golf in the U.S and finished in a creditable tie for third on his Masters debut this month, appreciates the greater numbers of European players on the PGA Tour.

"I feel like it is almost the European Tour out here," he told reporters at Augusta. "I used to be virtually the only Brit player, but there's a lot of other guys out here now.

"It is great to see them all over here. It certainly makes my little circle a lot more social."

Donald, who won the 2002 Southern Farm Bureau Classic in his rookie PGA Tour season, has been joined by the likes of Sergio Garcia, Levet, Harrington, Clarke, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Greg Owen and Brian Davis in the U.S. this year.

Qualifying for last year's European Ryder Cup team earned Poulter, among others, the chance to take up temporary membership of the 2005 PGA Tour and he plans to play in a minimum of 20 events in the U.S. this year.

"It's a great place to come and play golf and to further my career, to try and get a few more world ranking points," the 29-year-old Englishman said earlier this year.

"I'm going to play a mixture of PGA Tour and European Tour. I'll play the majors this year, the WGCs, and then I'll go back home and do a stint there."

The European Tour, which will take in 23 countries this year, is generally accepted as the golf's 'world' tour. More and more, though, the world's best players are heading to the U.S.


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