By Andrew Both
GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - Former world number two Sergio Garcia says he fully understands why the European Tour is having trouble keeping pace with the richer U.S. circuit, but he does not blame his home tour's leadership.
Some players on the European Tour have become frustrated at what they see as its failure to make the most of its potential, while the eurozone's financial turmoil has led to gaps on the calendar and less prize money than on the PGA Tour.
"We all know how many problems Europe is going through," Spaniard Garcia told Reuters after launching his title defense with a five-under-par 65 in the opening round of the Wyndham Championship on Thursday.
"Obviously we would love to see it growing more but I'm sure (chief executive) George (O'Grady) and his whole team are doing the best they can to make the tour as strong as they can.
"I'm sure it's not their choice to have the situation we have (but) I think the tour is still in good strength and should be okay."
Garcia's comments came in the wake of remarks made recently by fellow European heavyweight Paul Casey, who expressed his own frustration with the European Tour.
"I agree with those people who think we have an unbelievable product, but we are so far from maximising what we have, and we need to freshen things up," said Englishman Casey, who sits on the European Tour's tournament player committee.
"It needs some new energy. This is the time for change as it's a great opportunity we're missing."
Only a few years ago, the European Tour seemed destined to challenge the PGA Tour for prize money as it expanded aggressively around the world, particularly into Asia and the United Arab Emirates.
But its purses remain significantly less, on average, than those available on the PGA Tour, and its fields are considerably weaker, except for a handful of events.
Further compounding the issue, most of Europe's top players, including Garcia and Casey, tend to play more often in the United States than on their 'home' tour.
That disparity led to speculation earlier this week that the PGA Tour might try to take over the European Tour, although both tours have refuted the suggestion.
"Certain news reports have indicated that the PGA Tour has made an offer to acquire the European Tour," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. "Those reports are inaccurate.
"However, as I have stated publicly on several occasions, the integration of professional golf can create additional value for our players, sponsors and fans."
Keith Waters, chief operating officer of the European Tour, said: "The golf market in Europe is significantly smaller than in the United States, hence the European Tour's expansive policies throughout the world over the past 16 years, which includes co-operation with the U.S. PGA Tour in the World Golf Championships arena."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)