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August 7, 2009

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Players shrug off Dubai prize cuts

SPECULATION that the European Tour's 2009 Race to Dubai will have its lucrative prize fund cut by as much as 25 percent has come as no surprise to Britain's Lee Westwood.

The Guardian newspaper reported this week that the circuit's season-ending Dubai World Championship would offer a purse of US$7.5 million, down from the initial US$10 million.

"It's a reality check for everybody that in times like this - when there's a credit crunch, people are struggling financially - nobody is immune," Westwood told reporters on Wednesday.

"I heard before it all came out in the press that it was going from US$10 million down to US$7.5 million. That's still a massive prize when you think about it. I think we're lucky to be playing for that kind of money."

The Race to Dubai was trumpeted as the world's most lucrative golf competition when it was announced in November 2007.

Around 53 tournaments were to be played in 26 destinations before the US$20 million finale, the Dubai World Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai from November 19-22, 2009.

However Leisurecorp, the Dubai-based developer sponsoring the series, has since been severely affected by the economic global crisis.

Leisurecorp, which has ploughed 100 million pounds into the tour this year as part of a five-year agreement, was taken over by the state-owned Nakheel in May.

"I can fully understand, and I'm pretty supportive in a way, that they (Leisurecorp) are still hanging in there," added Westwood, who is competing in this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.

"We're just lucky to be playing in big tournaments for that kind of money, full stop, never mind whether it's US$10 million or US$7.5."

Although the European Tour was not prepared to comment on the expected prize fund cuts, a spokesman said: "The agreement is proceeding as planned but (tour chief executive) George O'Grady will be making a visit to the region in the very near future."

Henrik Stenson said he had only heard rumors of a prize reduction and did not want to assess anything until it was confirmed by the European Tour. "The world economic situation affects everyone in one way or another," he said. "All the tours are struggling to keep sponsors. I think we're lucky in golf because we have a strong product to offer."

Stenson said the SAS Masters in Sweden, held a week after the British Open, cut its prize money by 40 percent. On the PGA Tour, the St Jude Championship in Memphis, Tennessee, dropped its purse by US$500,000.

The Race to Dubai had hopes of attracting US-based players, and among those who joined the European Tour this year were Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Geoff Ogilvy and Ben Curtis.


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