By Tony Jimenez
(Reuters) - The inaugural FedExCup-style 'Final Series' that tees off in Shanghai this week will give the European Tour a much-needed shot in the arm after a difficult year, said twice major winner Jose Maria Olazabal.
While the rival U.S. PGA Tour goes from strength to strength, the European circuit has struggled for sponsors and been badly hampered by the absence of headline attractions like Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
With the majority of the triumphant 2012 Ryder Cup team basing themselves on the other side of the Atlantic this season, chief executive George O'Grady has had an awkward task in selling the European Tour brand.
The 'Final Series', similar to the U.S. circuit's end-of-season FedExCup extravaganza, is a sequence of four events worth more than $30 million in total and starts on Thursday with the BMW Masters in China.
"I think we are going to see four great tournaments," 2012 Ryder Cup captain Olazabal told Reuters in an interview.
"It's very important for the European Tour. We are going to see the top players coming back to play in these events and it's a good attraction for the tour, for the fans, the players and for media attention."
Shanghai also stages the WGC-Champions Tournament next week before the Final Series builds to a crescendo with the Turkish Open featuring world number one Tiger Woods and finally the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in the middle of November.
"This is another idea to keep the players on their toes," said 1994 and 1999 U.S. Masters champion Olazabal. "It's important for 2014 too, especially as that is a Ryder Cup year.
"If the players do well in this lucrative stretch of tournaments they will have done most of the job in terms of qualifying for the team.
"The players are conscious of that and you're going to see them trying very hard," said Olazabal at the Nespresso Trophy Final for amateur golfers held in San Sebastian, Spain where the company was announced as the official coffee supplier for the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Olazabal believes the tour is experiencing a financial trough mainly due to the economic downturn in Europe.
"The whole of Europe is going through a tough time and I'm pretty sure when we see signs of economic recovery the tour will go back to its origins and will get stronger again," said the 47-year-old Spaniard.
"That's the reason the tour is having a tough time getting sponsors."
After spending almost two years planning and fretting over his Ryder Cup captaincy duties, Olazabal is back focusing on his own game again.
He played in 23 tour events this season, achieving just one top-10 finish when he tied for fifth place at the Irish Open in June, and may turn to world number three Phil Mickelson's coach Butch Harmon in a bid to climb the rankings again.
"My game this year was off," said the world number 419. "I worked hard and I didn't really get the results I wanted.
"My season is over now but you know me, I will keep on trying and see if I can get better next season. I'll be working mainly on the driver during the winter because my accuracy off the tee was very poor this year.
"I haven't decided who I'll be working with yet. My first target is to start working on my own in a couple of weeks' time.
"If I don't see any results quickly then maybe I'll have to go and pay Butch a visit."
(Editing by Rex Gowar)