Russell on narrow tour margins
Golf is a sport where millions of pounds are on offer most weeks of the year - but it is possible for big issues to be decided by tiny amounts.
Golf is a sport where millions of pounds are on offer most weeks of the year - but it is still possible for big issues to be decided by tiny amounts.
Take the climax of the European Challenge Tour season in Italy this week. Rarely, if ever, has £13 been so important.
When the Grand Final finishes on Saturday the circuit's top 21 money-winners this season will all earn cards for the main Tour - a chance, in other words, to compete for upwards of £110million next year.
Argentina's Daniel Vancsik is currently in 21st place with £47,786, while Scotland's Raymond Russell is 22nd on £47,773.
It is the same gap that existed between them a week ago in Copenhagen, where they tied for 20th place after a tournament of wildly fluctuating fortunes.
Vancsik, winner of the Italian Open only three years ago, had an opening round of 68 to Russell's 76. Russell then hit back in the third round with a 69 when the South American carded a 78 before closing scores of 71 and 70 brought them back together.
For the 40-year-old from Edinburgh it is a situation he might well have avoided but for a mysterious virus.
Russell, whose one European Tour victory came at the Cannes Open 16 years ago, tied for fourth with an amateur by the name of Justin Rose at the 1998 Open Championship and remained a regular on the circuit until the end of the 2005 season.
Then he lost his card and suffered a shoulder injury that eventually needed surgery, putting him out of the game for a year.
The former Walker Cup amateur - he was a team-mate of Padraig Harrington in 1993 - made four unsuccessful trips back to the qualifying school before graduating from the Challenge Tour in 2010, but then was struck down by illness.
"I only played one European Tour event and two on the Challenge Tour last year," he said. "It was awful. I'd worked very hard to get back on the tour only for that to wreck the season."
Russell was given a medical extension of this season, decided to focus most of his energies on the Challenge Tour again and in June sank a four-foot putt for his first victory on the circuit.
In second place after a closing 64, however, was Vancsik - and how valuable that round now looks.
Although no fewer than 18 players could still finish top of the Challenge Tour's rankings, the outstanding performer is undoubtedly Swede Kristoffer Broberg, who on Sunday made it a remarkable four wins in just six starts.
Compatriot Magnus Carlsson is currently in fourth spot, but he has already earned enough on the main tour to guarantee his place for next year and that is why the cut-off comes this time at 21st rather than the usual 20th.
Six English players - Gary Lockerbie, Simon Wakefield, Chris Paisley, Daniel Brooks, Phillip Archer and Eddie Pepperell - are in position to graduate, as are Scots Chris Doak and Scott Henry.
One title Vancsik deserves is that of 'Iron Man'. This week is his 25th tournament and there have been only 26 in total.
Despite the riches up for grabs on the European Tour, it is still not in the same league as the PGA Tour in America.
When Tommy Gainey won in Georgia on Sunday he became the 97th player to earn over a million dollars this season - and 38 of them have earned over two million.
A million dollars converts these days to around £625,000. On the European Tour 'only' the top 25 have won that much and only the top 10 have picked up the equivalent of two million dollars.
After The Open in July Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson confirmed that the controversial use of long putters was "firmly back on the radar" and that "we need to clarify the position as soon as possible".
His comments came after wins for Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els in the preceding four majors and a one-two for Els and Adam Scott at Royal Lytham.
Three months on and still no announcement, but Royal and Ancient spokesman Malcolm Booth told Press Association Sport: "This issue is still being reviewed. I believe we plan to clarify our position by the end of the year".
If any sort of ban is put in the Rules of Golf it is not expected to come into force until the start of 2016.
Nevertheless, US Open champion Simpson said at this week's Grand Slam in Bermuda that he has already been practising with a short putter so that he is fully ready.
Intriguingly, he added: "If the USGA (United States Golf Association, which frames the rules along with the R&A) bans it, I think it's going to be a whole another ball game to see if the PGA Tour bans it.
"I think it's going to be tough if they do ban it. I think it's going to be tough for committees to really have a stance on it and explain why.
"You look at the facts. Last year there was no-one in the top 20 in the strokes gained category that anchored a putter, so the argument of 'it's an advantage' you have to throw that out there.
"There's a bunch of arguments going around, but I haven't heard a good one yet, so wait and see.
"I'm friends with a lot of the R&A guys and the USGA guys - it's nothing personal and I know they are trying to do it for the betterment of the game, but I don't think it's a good decision."
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