This week is the DP World (pause) Championship, the culmination of the European Tour season, and as chief executive Keith Pelley insisted last year, now the Tour’s flagship event.
It also marks the first full year of Pelley’s piloting of the tour. And while we kind of guessed that he had a tough job, the extent of it cannot be clearer as the Tour gathers for the final time in 2016 in Dubai.
The European Tour once had aspirations – not altogether realistic ones, but aspirations all the same – to be a genuine rival to the PGA Tour.
One suspects during his protracted and finally largely fruitless merger negotiations with the Asian Tour, Pelley was still pursuing this goal. He may still be pursuing it now.
But a stark look at the facts shows that this is now almost a hopeless case. I’ve been compiling the relative rankings by event of the tournaments on both tours all season and, really, there’s hardly a relevant comparison anymore.
Using the Official World Rankings’ figures of strength of field, we see that last week’s Nedbank Challenge was only the second week out of a possible 47 that the European Tour event outranked the competing tournament on the PGA Tour.
The other was Abu Dhabi back in January. There’ll be another this week because the DP World will almost certainly outrank the RSM Classic in the States, and there would have been a fourth had the Greenbrier Classic, up against the Scottish Open, not been completely rained off.
Still a number of primary European Tour events were soundly beaten on the week-to-week match-ups.
The Dubai Desert Classic, once nearly regarded as approaching major status, was hammered by the Farmers Insurance Open. The BMW PGA Championship , long regarded Europe’s prior event outside The Open, was easily outranked by the Dean & Deluca (what used to be The Colonial).
Even Rory’s presence couldn’t get the Irish Open ranked above the Byron Nelson on the same weekend. Tiger pulling out of the Safeway Open made no odds – it still beat the British Masters by 100 points.
Worst of all, the Turkish Airlines Open, one of the European Tour’s big end-of-season moneyfests, ended up outranked by the Shriners at Las Vegas.
The PGA Tour continues to grow. During 2016 it has averaged over 377 world ranking points per tournament, up from 364 for the same period in 2015. It probably would have been much more had some tournaments not suffered from being moved around in the traditional schedule to accommodate the Olympics.
The European Tour, on the other hand, averages just 150 points per tournament; way less than half of its rival. About the same difference as it outranks its own secondary circuit, the Challenge Tour.
That’s also down seven points on 2015, and that with some events being helped in the build-up to the Ryder Cup with players chasing qualification points.
Almost every primary event in Europe this year – excepting Abu Dhabi – suffered a big drop in rankings. Dubai, Qatar, the BMW PGA, Irish, Scottish and the Dunhill all went down.
The French Open, due to the double Ryder Cup points offered, and last week’s Nedbank Challenge, which became a Final Series event this year, were the only other big events to go up in ranking.
Of course the growth of the PGA Tour – even its events outside America, the ones in China, Korea and Mexico in recent weeks, increased in value – have an effect of dropping the ranking in Europe as more top players gravitate towards the US circuit.
It leaves Pelley in a perilous position. His stated aim of having short, sharp bursts of high paying tournaments to try and lure top players away from the US is being undermined as even the PGA Tour’s modest schedule-fillers are much more lucrative than the European Tour’s flagships.
Russell Knox’s win in the Travelers Championship in August wasn’t enough to get him into the Ryder Cup but it’s strength of field outranked every event on the European Tour except for Abu Dhabi.
At this juncture, Pelley’s job looks impossible. The best players inevitably go to the US, the big money will follow. Europe is a very junior partner.
Scots shut out of Dubai
Confirmation that this has been a sorry year for Scotland on the European Tour comes as it was confirmed at the weekend that the Home of Golf will have no representation at the DP World in Dubai, the first time since the tournament was inaugurated that this has happened.
If anything is an indicator that we need some fresh blood among the Jocks on Tour, this was it. Q School is ongoing as I write and at the halfway point we’ve got two inside the top 25 – David Law and Bradley Neil, with one just outside in Scott Henry.
These three are maybe the most talented players we’ve produced in the last decade. Time they were on Tour.