By Patrick Johnston
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The expanded 2013 CIMB Classic will not lead to an increase in invites for Asian Tour players, the PGA Tour told Reuters, drawing a sharp response from the regional body on Friday, who said numbers had yet to be agreed.
The 48-man, co-sanctioned event will add 30 players to the field next year and be part of the 2013-14 FedEx Cup series when it becomes a full-fledged PGA Tour event with a bump in prize money to $7 million.
Currently, the $6.1 million event played in Malaysia features 10 players from the Asian Tour and two from the PGA Tour of Malaysia, who both sanction the event.
"The eligibility next year is going to be 60 PGA Tour players off our FedEx Cup list and then it will be 10 Asian players off their order of merit and then eight sponsor exemptions," the PGA Tour's co-chief operating officer Ed Moorhouse said.
"We just think with the weather at this time of year, if you try and play more than 78 players it is going to be difficult to finish the tournament on Sunday," he said referring to the seasonal heavy thunderstorms in the Malaysian capital this week.
The Asian Tour were surprised to hear of Moorhouse's comments and told Reuters on Friday that there were meetings planned over the coming days to discuss the invite breakdown.
"As of now, nothing has been agreed on this matter," Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han said via email from Singapore.
"But with the field size increasing from 48 players to 78 players next year, we expect the Asian Tour's allocation of players to increase proportionately.
"As a sanctioning partner of the CIMB Classic, we expect the new field breakdown to be reflective of our status in the tournament."
The PGA Tour were switching their calendar next year and their 2013 season would end in September, Moorhouse said, adding that the 2013-14 season would begin shortly after with the CIMB Classic expected to be the third event of the campaign.
Moorhouse said on Thursday that the PGA Tour had a strong relationship with their Asian counterparts and they "will certainly be respectful of the Asian Tour'" in all their work in the region.
"We think it is not only appropriate but good that there are a minimum of Asian players here and we are anxious to see them perform against top notch PGA Tour players," the lawyer said when asked if there could be an all-American field in future.
"Some of them perform very well. I think it is an interesting element of the tournament and something we would want to keep."
American Robert Garrigus led at the halfway stage of this year's event, two clear of South African and Asian Tour member Jbe Kruger, who outperformed his playing partner, 14-times major winner Tiger Woods, in Friday's second round.
Interest in the third edition of the event has sky-rocketed with Woods in this year's field, giving a chance for higher world-ranked Asian Tour players to mix it with arguably the greatest golfer of all time.
While many in Asia are delighted to see Woods and his fellow PGA Tour regulars coming to the region, murmurs of discontent grow that the major tours are encroaching too much and that the Asian Tour players are being sidelined on their own patch.
With world number 181 Kruger and the nine other invited Asian Tour players enjoying the PGA Tour experience, the bulk of the other members are left waiting to play with no other Asian Tour event on this week.
The European Tour are playing a $7 million event in China this week before the equally lucrative WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shenzhen to follow, with the $6 million Singapore Open, co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, after that.
Moorehouse said the PGA Tour were pleased with the success of the CIMB Classic and refused to rule out another PGA event cropping up in the region to compliment the HSBC Champions and World Cup of Golf tournaments they are already associated with.
"Tournament wise we could do another one," said Moorhouse, who handles the business aspects of the Tour.
"Golf has become a global game with it being in the Olympics in 2016 there is a heightened interest especially in the Asian countries."
(Editing by John O'Brien)