Tour chief O’Grady salutes trail-blazing European season

Dubai: Chief executive George O’Grady looked like a cat who had just devoured all the cream as he hailed a remarkable European Tour campaign at the season-ending Dubai World Championship.

O’Grady was relaxed and smiling as he looked back at a year when Lee Westwood replaced Tiger Woods as world number one and Colin Montgomerie’s European team regained the Ryder Cup in Wales.

As if that had not been enough, Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open), Louis Oosthuizen (British Open) and Martin Kaymer (US PGA) scooped three of the four majors and fellow European Tour members Ian Poulter, Francesco Molinari and Ernie Els won World Golf Championship events.

“Many of you have written very kind things about the tour this year, I think suggesting it’s been the most successful in our history,” O’Grady told reporters as Swede Robert Karlsson triumphed in Dubai.

“It is for others to say that but in a year when we get three majors, three World Golf Championships and of course the Ryder Cup you would imagine we are reasonably pleased.”

Golf fans in Dubai witnessed a thrilling climax to the season as Karlsson pipped Britain’s Poulter to the $1.26 million first prize on the second playoff hole at the Greg Norman-designed Earth course.

The desert venue offers a poignant symbol of the serious financial woes that have gripped this city since the global credit crunch.

Row upon row of half-built villas, with no sign of on-going construction work being carried out, line the complex but O’Grady said the tour was working hard with the local government and tournament sponsors to ensure the event remained in Dubai.

“There is an impetus which has been strengthened this week by other Dubai-based sponsors,” said the chief executive. “There is a will of the government ministers.

“We have condensed the (original) five-year agreement into a guaranteed three years (until 2011) and if we secure powerful sponsorship in that time we anticipate it going further. I would be very confident this is here to stay.”

Ryder Cup

The jewel in Europe’s 2010 crown was last month’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States and O’Grady hinted that double U.S. Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal was the front-runner to replace Montgomerie as skipper for the next edition in 2012.

“Just about every player on the tour, when I last talked to them, would love to see him as the captain,” said O’Grady. “I haven’t heard one person who wouldn’t.

“But it’s up to him. He has not been invited yet but I think if every player you are talking to sees him as an inspirational figure, then the people in a room on a given day have got to vote it.

“I think it will all be discussed at the next Tournament Committee meeting in Abu Dhabi (in January),” added O’Grady.

Olazabal, 44, has been dogged by injury and illness in recent years and he said last month that worries over his health could force him to turn down the captaincy.

“You know exactly what kind of man Jose Maria Olazabal is -- an honourable, incredible man,” said O’Grady.

“If he didn’t feel he could do it completely to the best of his ability, he probably would not put a committee in that position. We would all hope he is well enough and is able to do it.”

O’Grady said the 2012 Ryder Cup in the U.S. would definitely end in September after last month’s match stretched into an extra day because of bad weather in early October.

There has also been criticism of the way some American-based European players heard about their selection or non-selection for this year’s Ryder Cup while in mid-round in a tournament in the U.S.

“I think we will listen to Colin Montgomerie’s view at the next meeting ... (but) I would not want a player put in that position again,” said O’Grady.

Bureau Report