European Tour hits back in battle for Els

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Officials representing the European and US tours are heading for a battle royale - which could significantly affect the relationship between the world's two leading golf tours - in Seville in a fortnight's time.

Smarting at the way his players suffered defeat by the humiliating margin of eight points in September's Ryder Cup and with Tiger Woods no longer the world's number one, US Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has launched a campaign to restore the credibility of the professional game on his side of the Atlantic.

He is insisting that South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, who are members of the European Tour and finished top of this year's money list, curb their globe-trotting activities and play more in America to maintain the standard of tournaments there.

Both Els and Goosen each year play more than the minimum 15 events in America required for them to keep their US Tour cards and are furious at letters they have received from Finchem on the subject. And on Sunday it emerged that the European Tour was ready to fight their corners.

At the World Cup in Seville on November 18, George O'Grady, who takes over as executive director of the European Tour in January, will challenge Finchem over his actions. "It seems an extraordinary approach when Ernie is already playing in excess of his minimum number of tournaments in America," said O'Grady. "And the worry is if the Americans are going to lean on Ernie and we know they have already done so with Retief, what about Adam Scott, Trevor Immelman and other generation of young guys that come from the southern hemisphere and make their start on the European Tour."

The failure of both Els and Goosen to return from America to appear at Valderrama in Spain this weekend for the end-of-season Volvo Masters clearly devalued a tournament that usually has showcase billing on the European Tour calendar and could be seen as a small victory for Finchem.

But his renewed efforts to have US golf viewed in grand isolation from the rest of the world do not stack up. Europe's Ryder Cup win reflected the strength in depth of its golf at present and the fact that when the tour's calendar was completed on Sunday night there were more than 30 different names on the season's honour's board confirmed it.

The final name to be added was England's Ian Poulter after he clinched the Masters title in a dramatic sudden death play-off against his Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia.

After starting the final round three shots adrift of the overnight leader, Scotland's Alistair Forsyth, neither Poulter or Garcia could tame Valderrama's tough layout but earned the right to a play-off by both shooting steady final round 70s. That was enough to take them ahead of the young Scot Forsyth who bogeyed his first two holes and failed to claw the strokes back on his way to a 74.

The play-off was nail-biting, if somewhat short of pure golfing skills, as both golfers missed the fairway at Valderrama's tough 18th hole. From his position on the left side of the fairway, Poulter was able to recover to make a par but Garcia could only make the green in four shots and the £460,000 winning cheque was on its way into the pocket of the 28-year-old from Woburn.

The victory takes Poulter into the world's top 50 and guarantees him a place in next years majors and world championship events. That will mean another foreign presence for many weeks on the US Tour and could present Finchem with a new headache - deciding what to do about Poulter's outlandish dress sense.

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