More players than ever before will be playing on the European Tour next season - because of the "Race to Dubai", according to Sergio Garcia. The Race begins with the US$5million (Dh18.3m) HSBC Champions in Shanghai today, and the Spaniard, who plays on the European and US PGA Tours, is also hoping to add a personal footnote to the start of a new era for European golf by unseating American Phil Mickelson as the world No 2 in China.
"It's the start of the Race to Dubai, so we are all very excited," the 28-year-old world No 3 said. "I think that we've been talking about the new era for European golf ... this Race to Dubai is going to bring some different things to the tour." What it will bring above all else is a purse of $10m and a further $10m in bonuses at the Tour Championship in Dubai next November. As the fields for European events grow stronger, Garcia said, the number of world rankings points would also increase - an added incentive for the better golfers to sign up.
"That's definitely going to be the case this year for the Race and the European Tour for many years to come, and I think that's why you are going to see more good players coming more often and playing in Europe," said Garcia. "Obviously guys are at least trying to join the tour ... so I know we are looking forward to keep making the tour stronger and get us as close to the US PGA Tour as possible," he added.
One player who looks like he won't be joining Garcia on the Tour on a regular basis, however, is Mickelson, the defending champion in Shanghai. After arriving in China, the 38-year-old American said: "I'm not ready to commit to it, it might be something I do next year. I wouldn't rule it out." When I commit to the European I expect to play, not just the minimum, but to really be a part of the Tour.
"I'm just not ready now to commit to that. I'm not going to rule it out for the future. I think that's where the game is growing and is heading." A victory for Garcia, widely regarded as the best active player never to have won a major, would give him a chance of overhauling Mickelson in the world rankings this weekend. "If I can play well, I can move fairly close to that second spot in the world," he said.
"If I can win or come close to it... that's what I need to do to have a chance. I feel like I'm playing well, even though there's doubt that your legs get a little heavier, but I'm just trying to finish the year strong." Last year, in addition to the four majors and three World Golf Championships events, Mickelson played just the HSBC Champions and Scottish Open the week before the British Open at Royal Birkdale on the European Tour schedule. To be eligible for the Race to Dubai he would need to play a total of 12 events - with at least two in Europe.
"I understand and agree with the decision to raise the required number of events," added Mickelson. "They have made great strides with the Race to Dubai and I understand why they want to protect their asset. "It does not affect my decision. If I was going to play on the European Tour I would expect to play at least five events in addition to the four majors and three World Golf Championships so I think that would be a fair commitment."
For now, Mickelson is looking forward to defending the first significant overseas victory of his career and competing against an all-star field in Shanghai which includes Harrington, Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Garcia and European Tour Order of Merit holder Robert Karlsson. "I'm used to the role of defending champion, but I can feel a real level of excitement inside myself," said Mickelson. "This is special. I thought last year was a great event, but I think it's gone to a new level this year."