Lee Westwood starts his 30th season of the DP World Tour knowing that back-to-back events here and next week in Dubai could be his last at his home circuit before he receives a life ban.
Anger is inevitable, but the dominant emotions of the Englishman on the shooting range at Yas Links on Wednesday seemed to be more confusion and sadness.
The future of the Westwood tour is and other veterans such as Jan Poulter and Henrik Stenson. – will be accepted at a court hearing in London in three weeks. The judge will consider whether Wentworth headquarters has the power to sanction members who have joined LIV Golf, a Saudi-funded breakaway league.
On the eve of the Abu Dhabi Championship, there are rumors that the verdict is too close, so Westwood and the other rebels are in limbo.
“I’m not going to get into a guessing game and will cross that bridge when I can,” Westwood, 49, said. Telegraph Sport. “But I will say this: this is my 588th tournament and I love the European Tour and I like to think that I supported it better than anyone who was in my place. But now I look at the Tour and wonder what it is.”
Westwood played his first tournament in 1994. “I was 20 years old and I remember it well,” he said. “Madeira Island Open Championship, January. Howard Clark and Mark James were there and I think Mats Lanner won. I finished tied 19th and won around £2100. It was a long way from here to there.”
A similar finish on Sunday would net Westwood around £100,000. A stunning jump, no doubt, but Westwood peers at the starting list and feels uneasy.
“This is a $9 million (£7.25 million) tournament and only one player is in the top 20 in the world. [Shane Lowry],” he said. “People might argue that we, as LIV players, are not welcome here, but probably because of this field, a lot of people came up to me and thanked me for playing.
“I’m not disrespecting the 15th place on the Challenge Tour, but they came out this week and it’s a small field because of the daylight and only 120+ players. I never knew it went this far down the list. And we all know why.”
“With such world rankings, it’s a double whammy for this tour”
The PGA Tour responded to the LIV threat by presenting 13 boosted events with a $20 million (£16.1 million) prize pool. Players wishing to take part in the Tour’s hastily introduced $100m (£81m) Player Impact program must play at least 12 of them and take part in three other tournaments. The American Express Championship, which takes place in California and also starts on Thursday, boasts an $8 million prize pool but five of the top 10 in the world. Go count, says Westwood.
“The field next week in Dubai is the same as it is here,” Westwood said, acknowledging the presence of world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Desert Classic, albeit only for a seven-figure entry fee.
“So you have two $9 million tournaments, one after the other, an hour away from each other, in near-perfect conditions. If you’re not going to get strong pitches, like half a dozen of the world’s top 20, to them, then you’re never going to get them, right?
“The PGA Tour forces its best players to play and prevents them from showing up here. The FedEx Cup is organized in such a way that every player can play every week, which leaves no one else, right? And with world rankings as they are now – and I’ve said enough about it – it’s a double whammy for this tour.”
Westwood is far from alone in criticizing the new ranking system. Tiger Woods called for a fix, as did John Rahm, and Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, promised to raise the issue at the next meeting of the World Ranking Board.
“I was not on the list of former champions – I won here three years ago”
The son of a Worksop math teacher could be a Tour outcast by then – he will play in the 14-tournament LIV Golf League and presumably play the Asia Tour from time to time – and if he does, his last months will only be remembered for the wrong reasons. .
Of course, many will argue that he brought this on himself by taking £22m to join the LIV, but his 25 titles, three Orders of Merit and a huge contribution to the Ryder Cup should certainly not be blotted out of history. “In connection with the hearing, some line will be drawn in the sand,” he said. “Clarity will be good because everything was so vague, too vague.
“Why don’t we play Pro-Am in Wentworth? [at the BMW PGA Championship in September] what about here this week? Why don’t you play Poults and me, for example. It’s not good for sponsors, is it?
“Why not treat us equally until a decision is made? This week the list of former champions was published and I was not on it. I won here three years ago.
“The other players here were not hostile, and if HSBC, the sponsors here, wanted me to do something for them, then of course I would. But a message was sent out to all the players here the other day and it was just propaganda stoking tension between pros who are not with LIV against those with LIV. Why do it? Just wait for the hearing and get out of there. No matter how you look at it, it’s a disgrace.”