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European Tour's Middle East swing gaining importance

Tiger Woods has played the Dubai Desert Classic three of the last four years and is building his first golf course there. Chris DiMarco did a two-week swing through the desert last year at Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Scott Verplank is considering a trip next year.

The United Arab Emirates is one of the hottest properties on the European Tour, reflected by the world ranking. The average number of points available to the winner of three tournaments this year was 47.3, compared with an average of 48 to the winner of the Bob Hope Classic, Buick Invitational and FBR Open in Phoenix.

This is one area where Europe might be able to compete against the PGA Tour, especially with those stops offering appearance money and amenities so luxurious that some say the seven-star hotel in Abu Dhabi requires a golf cart to get to the room.

"I would hesitate to say it's a problem," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said at the Presidents Cup. "Appearance money is concentrated on a handful of guys. We've had the conflicting events policy for a number of years, and since then we've had no players get anywhere near them."

PGA Tour policy allows for three releases to go overseas for every 15 tour events played. Finchem said he pays attention to whether the same PGA Tour event is affected year after year, and whether a number of players ask for a release to the same overseas event.

"We won't release the world to go play," he said.

The bigger question is whether Europe's desert swing stays in the first part of the calendar year. Chief executive George O'Grady is said to be leaning toward moving the desert events toward the end of the year to set up a blockbuster finish.

And that might make it even more attractive to some Americans, especially with the FedEx Cup ending in September.

Some players might choose to use the final two months to make a push for the top 50 in the world to qualify for the majors, and more points are available in Europe than at watered-down fields in the PGA Tour's fall tournaments.

The Dunhill Links Championship offered twice as many points as the Valero Texas Open last week, and with the HSBC World Match Play Championship this week at Wentworth, it will make it three straight weeks that Europe has offered more ranking points than the PGA Tour.


October 10, 2007

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