McIlroy can still make mark stateside despite PGA Tour regulations
RORY McILROY'S decision to give up his full US PGA Tour card drew a quick riposte from officialdom on the far side of the Atlantic.
As McIlroy announced his decision to relinquish PGA Tour membership in 2011, the 21-year-old said he still looked forward to playing "11 or 12" events in the US next year.
US officials were quick to correct Holywood's hero, pointing out that anyone who gives up their card is limited to just five sponsor's invites and no more than 10 appearances in PGA Tour-sanctioned events for each of the following five years.
Oh yeah? So how did Lee Westwood play 11 times on the US Tour this year, they were asked. Didn't he give up his PGA card in 2008? That was an oversight, a senior Tour official explained. Anyway, he added, Westwood's 11th event was the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club and "the Tour decided a few years ago that they would not prohibit a player from competing in cross-sanctioned World Golf Championship events if he had reached 10 starts already."
The words 'could not' might be more appropriate than 'would not' when it comes to the Bridgestone or any other WGC event.
As a bona fide member of the European Tour (or any other body affiliated to the International Federation of Golf Tours, who promote the World Golf Championships), Westwood could not legally be denied his place at Firestone once he achieved the qualifying criteria.
And had the Englishman been fit, he could also have added the US PGA at Whistling Straits to his tally of PGA Tour-sanctioned events. In reality, if McIlroy wishes to play '11 or 12' times on the official US schedule next season, there's not a lot the PGA Tour can do to stop him.
The youngster certainly won't be short of invites and he's entitled to accept five. So let's say he plays the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Shell Houston Open, Quail Hollow, the Players Championship and either The Memorial or Memphis.
For example, would the PGA Tour be happy to decline him a spot in their own showpiece at Sawgrass? Might they be loath to explain to Wells Fargo, the sponsors at Quail Hollow, that their hugely popular defending champion cannot defend his title?
When you throw in the two early season World Golf Championships (Accenture Match Play and Doral), plus the Masters and the US Open, McIlroy could easily rack up 10 sanctioned events by the time he tees it up in the 2011 British Open at Sandwich.
Since they don't stop people playing in the WGCs and the US PGA Championship is run independently by the PGA of America, McIlroy would then bring his season's total of US Tour-sanctioned events to his desired dozen in August!
While the rules of play are rigidly enforced in golf, it seems clear that Tour regulations can be tempered to fit the financial realities.