By Andrew Both
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Former world number one Ernie Els has described as "farcical" the European Tour's increased playing demands and will register his disapproval by skipping next week's flagship season-ending event in Dubai.
The South African is annoyed at the tour's new regulation that its members must play two of the three events leading into Dubai to be eligible for the $8 million season finale.
Els, a four-times major champion who has been a member of the European Tour for nearly two decades, is clearly hurt that the tour does not seem bothered about whether he plays in Dubai.
"I don't think they really care," Els said wearily when asked how the tour had reacted to the news that their most celebrated veteran member would not play in Dubai.
"Why would they make a decision like that and expect guys to play? It's farcical. In my view it's an absolute joke."
Els, who is also a member of the U.S. PGA Tour, said he understood why the European Tour wanted to coax its top players into contesting more of the big-money Asian tournaments.
"I can see (the tour's point of view) but it's crazy," he said. "I've been playing both tours since 1994 and it's been no problem but for some reason now the European Tour expect us to play a full schedule.
"We used to play seven events and you could keep your card in Europe. Now you have to play more than in America. (That is) the direction they're going in. I just think it's the wrong one.
"I'm going to have to look at my schedule. I was there for the growth of this tour, 22 years, and now they've making it almost impossible for me� to remain playing the tour.
"All the good things I've done for this tour and a lot of other guys have done for this tour. They've given me honorary membership and all that but the way they're going is not the right direction.
"You could always play both tours. You've had Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy win both money lists.
"Now we have to make a decision where we never used to do that. Guys are not going to keep doing that. We've got families and schedules to keep."
The two-out-of-three rule that has riled Els refers to the recent BMW Masters in Shanghai, the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament that ended in Shanghai on Sunday, and this week's Turkish Airlines Open.
Els's comments, made while signing tournament flags at the HSBC Champions tournament at the weekend, demonstrate the conundrum faced by the European Tour, which is struggling to keep up with the richer PGA Tour as more and more non-American players choose to play primarily in the United States.
World number two Adam Scott, the Masters champion from Australia, quietly relinquished his European Tour membership a few years ago and now plays almost exclusively in the U.S. and his homeland.
At 44, Els, twice British Open and U.S. Open champion, may not represent the future of the European Tour, but he has been the non-European face of the tour for the past two decades and it could be an embarrassment for the tour if he is not present for the DP World Tour Championship starting on November 14.
Els is 14th on the tour's Race to Dubai standings. The top 60 players after this week's Turkish Airlines Open qualify for Dubai.
The tour, however, is unlikely to ever lose its top European players - nearly all of whom covet Ryder Cup selection.
But the balancing act of trying to get the top players to compete regularly, without driving them off the tour altogether, will continue. (Editing by Josh Reich)