According to the European Tour media guide, Europe’s “Leading Money Winner” in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 was Tiger Woods. He also won the PGA Tour money title those years.
However, since Woods has never been a member of the European Tour, he was ineligible to top their “official” money list.
This may be common knowledge to experts of golf minutiae, but it doesn’t stop the mainstream sports media from reporting that Donald and McIlroy have broken new ground in the sport; that each have somehow reached the mountaintop on two continents in back-to-back seasons.
This news clip doesn’t sound nearly as exciting if it’s followed with, “... and Tiger did the same thing six times over a nine-year span.”
Is it all just semantics? Or is there any aspect of what Donald and McIlroy did that warrants their accomplishment being held in higher regard than Tiger’s six double-money wins?
It depends who you ask.
Online debates, including one I have been involved in, surprisingly are split with some people arguing that Tiger’s accomplishment shouldn’t be in the same discussion as Donald’s or McIlroy’s.
“Sports history world is full of unofficial results and stats, that don’t count. Hence the term ‘unofficial’ and why only Luke and Rory are being recognized with this achievement,” wrote one member of the popular golf site torontogolfnuts.com, which boasts more than 25,000 members.
“If he wasn’t a Euro member, then he didn’t qualify. Like saying I shot 65 the same day a tournament was played at a course, but I didn’t enter ... but I would have won ... Appreciate he “would have” accomplished the feat, but Luke was 1st, Rory 2nd,” wrote another.
Perhaps it should be expected. After all, until Tim Tebow burst on the scene, Woods was the most polarizing figure in sports.
Sports fans either loved him or hated him. There wasn’t a middle ground.
What, exactly, is the difference between what Woods accomplished and what Donald and McIlroy did?
The difference is simple. Donald’s and McIlroy’s are official because they were members of both tours and Woods’ exact same on-course feat is unofficial because he only had membership on the PGA Tour.
In order to become a member of the European Tour a player needs to play in 13 events. The four majors and four WGC events count toward the total of 13. That means any top player who qualifies for those eight events would need to play in five other European Tour events to be granted membership.
Of course, a player also has to apply for membership which Woods has, at best, shown a mild interest in doing. There is much more incentive for European players such as Donald and McIlroy to join the PGA Tour than there is for Woods to join the European Tour.
If you want to be the best player in the world and you play in Europe, you make your way to the PGA Tour — not vice-versa.
However, with reports that the European Tour will begin counting team events such as the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup toward the 13 events necessary to qualify, Woods recently has said he might consider applying for membership.
Back to the issue at hand. Does Tiger deserve the same accolades as Donald and McIlroy for leading both tours in money in the same year?
Of course he does. The fact that he did so by playing fewer European events than he needed for membership actually makes it more impressive.
If anybody’s accomplishments deserve to be questioned, how about the golfers who won the six Order of Merit titles handed out for leading the Euro tour in money during Tiger’s years as money leader?
Colin Montgomery is the leader with eight Order of Merit titles.
If Tiger had bothered to become a member of the European Tour during those seasons he would have scalped two of Montgomery’s titles and would be tied with Seve Ballesteros and Monty for most all-time with six.
But, since I’ve already been accused of playing the woulda-coulda game, let’s stick with what we know.
Woods is officially second in career PGA Tour wins and officially third in career European Tour wins.
Here’s where it gets a little murky but no less impressive. He, like Donald and McIlroy, has won the most money on both tours in the same season. The difference is he has done it six times but has never qualified for the European Tour’s official money title or any of their year-end trophies.
In the movies when they are looking for the truth they always say to follow the money. In this case the money is in Tiger’s bank.