By Brian Keogh
Graeme McDowell believes the PGA Tour is “stealing” Europe’s top players.
But like Padraig Harrington, he hopes that one of the weakest fields in Irish Open history could throw up Ireland’s first home winner for 25 years.
World No 12 Harrington and No 48 Lee Westwood are the only members of the top 50 competing in this week's €2.5 million Adare extravaganza.
The attractions of a €490,000 home for a hole-in-one or a first prize of €416,660 don't even raise an eyebrow these days
The squeeze between the $9 million Players Championship and next week’s €4.35 million BMW PGA Championship has left the Irish Open struggling to breathe.
And McDowell warned: “With the FedEx Cup this year, they are going all out to steal all of or top players off us and get them playing over there as often as they possibly can.
“I guess you can’t resent them for it. They do have the money to offer; they do have the TV; they do have the stars; they do have Tiger Woods.
“It is tough. It’s tough for our boys to not want to go over there really and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.
“We are probably lacking a little bit in our field from what we had in the past. But okay, that gives us a better chance. The top players here this week will have fewer top players to beat.”
McDowell admits that he’d love the chance to get back into the world’s top 50 and base his schedule around the tastiest tournaments in golf without losing his loyalty to Europe and the Irish Open.
But he also says that it’s a shame to see players like Justin Rose are being sucked into the black hole of the PGA Tour.
And he fears that the European Tour could end up being a feeder tour for it’s bigger American brother as top Australians and Asians learn their trade here and then head off for the lure of the big bucks Stateside.
He added: “There’s no doubt that’s a danger. The magnetic pull of the US Tour is getting larger and larger every year.
“We do see a lot of Aussie players come here, learn their trade and never see them again.
“But fingers crossed we are getting stronger. Our magnetic pull is Asia at the minute and we are really starting to create some great events there.”
McDowell, Harrington and many of the European-born players have vowed to remain loyal to his roots on the European Tour, which now boasts more than 50 events around the world from Limerick to Melbourne.
But Harrington insists that the European Tour must become more of a World Tour to compete with the megabucks US version where he plies his trade half the year.
Rather than use the word steal, Harrington believes the Americans simply “encourage” more top players to head Stateside.
He said: “The European Tour has to become the World Tour and evolve with the South African, the Australian, the Asian Tour, the Japanese Tour.
“That’s how the No 2 would try to compete with the No 1. They would merge with the No 3, 4 and 5 and not necessarily take over.
“That’s the only way it is going to grow or compete. In my eyes, that is how any business entity would compete with somebody who is substantially larger.”
Throwing more money at the Irish Open is not the solution for Harrington., who has seen huge events such as the €5 million French Open struggling to attract top player.
He added: “It is very competitive but I think people will come to the event over time once they see it gaining stature.”