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History in the making
As Tiger Woods made yet another entry into the history books when he made his 113th consecutive cut on the PGA Tour, matching Byron Nelson's 54-year-old record, Sandy Lyle exited the lists of the European Tour having slipped from the list of top-30 career earners.

Golf historians and financial analysts of the golf industry alike will look back on the closing events of the 2003 season and draw very different conclusions. Historians will look back at the artificiality of it all; the money men will enthuse about the emergence of new talent in such depth that Woods' supremacy could no linger be assumed. What both should be remarking is that contracts signed and not golf played was what decided the order of merit and the leading money winners board.

Irrespective of history's view on the matter, golfs' administrators must be breathing huge and repeated sighs of relief in America. For the first time in five years Tiger Woods is not leading the earnings list and the newly hyped 'golfer of the year' title is not automatically his for the taking.

Vijay Singh won the $700,000 on offer last week at the grandly titled 'Funai Classic at the Walt Disney World Resort.' In the process, he hoisted himself to the top of the annual earnings leader board in the US - which means that having earned in excess of $6 million he is the highest prize-winning earner in world golf this year.

Singh passed Tiger Woods to lead the money list by beating him into equal second place in this long-standing event over the resort Magnolia course in Florida. The US press has long been looking for clues that would signal the end of the Woods era of golfing supremacy and they are not likely to overlook the significance of this event.

But before they do they should make a close examination of the facts. Without in any way decrying Singh's achievement, it should be noted that he has played in 25 events this year while Tiger has entered only 17. Vijay has collected four wins and numerous top-10 finishes this season to amass his $6 million but who, other than a collection of mid-west farmers and tractor franchise holders, are likely to recall the 2003 winner of the John Deere Classic?

Vijay may now be in second place in the World rankings but the Tiger retains the top spot - a situation that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. His second place reflects the rich pickings available on the US tour for merely being consistent - and there is no denying Vijay's consistency since June.

Woods has not been consistent but he has also failed to give himself a fair chance by playing in only 17 events. Why? Is it of his own choosing or is it because of contractual obligations?

It is perhaps significant that Woods could reverse the money winners table by winning the Chrysler Open next week. Singh will be contesting the event and doubtless picking up some dough in the process. Woods will not be playing next week, possibly because he is under contract to Buick. Does this make much sense to the order of merit or the money winners' listing?

Woods quite possibly played in the Disney event because he has contractual obligations to the Disney organisation, even though the exceptionally easy Magnolia course is little more than a putting competition for the big boys. The Chrysler, on the other hand, is played on a track that asks a great deal more of the player and is a place where the Tiger could really show his stripes, but apparently he will not be there -which makes a complete nonsense of the assessment systems.

But the Chrysler will enjoy a top quality field. They will all be there playing their hearts out for a place in the top-30 of the US money list, for this is the magic number that will contest the concluding event of the year, the Tour Championship. This event carries a $1 million top prize and will decide the outcome of the money winners table.

Of equal importance is the fact that it also carries maximum points towards what should be known as the Price Waterhouse Stakes. Singh is also leading this eclectic points table for a $1 million bonus. It is a points table based upon tournament finishes and it counts towards career earnings and therefore Tour exemptions.

The Tour Championship and the Price Waterhouse Stakes are the quite brilliant brainchildren of the backroom boys at the US PGA Tour. Both have greatly enlivened end-of-season play and stimulated participation of the over-paid mediocre in Tour events at a time when most want to go off and vegetate in Hawaii.

What these events have also done is introduced a huge bias in the careers' assessment of Tour players, for the assessment is based entirely on money won. Thus, players who have come into their game in the last 10 years, when pickings have been much greater than in the previous decade, have an artificially high ranking above earlier great champions.

Even winners of major titles, like Sandy Lyle at the age of 45, find themselves losing their playing rights to players who have won events of much less significance but more lucrative rewards because of the money hike. Lyle won two Majors and 27 Tour events but only £3 million in prize money - a sum that today could be surpassed with only a sprinkling of top-10 finishes over a few years. Lyle's case is a European Tour tragedy but it is a case likely to be repeated on the US Tour soon.

Golf historians and financial analysts will be divided over the significance of this issue for it says more about the balance of power in golf than any other.

©    27 - OCTOBER 2003

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