Sunday 25 August 2019

European Tour blow as Rory McIlroy turns focus to US

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

James Corrigan

Rory McIlroy has dealt the European Tour a significant blow on the eve of the Ryder Cup by revealing he will almost certainly not play on his home circuit until the Irish Open at Lahinch next July.

Ever since he first won his card in 2007, the four-time Major winner has kick-started his year in the Middle East on the Tour's so-called 'Desert Swing', apart from last year when he was injured. In January, he referred to the Abu Dhabi Championship as "the perfect place to start my campaign" and added that the Dubai Desert Classic holds "a special spot" in his heart, as it was his first win as a professional nine years ago.

However, it seems that the new riches on offer on the revamped PGA Tour schedule are irresistible to the 29-year-old.

It was announced last week that the FedEx play-offs pot will be doubled to $70m with the winner receiving $15m, a hike from the $10m the FedEx Cup winner will collect tonight at the Tour Championship at East Lake.

There will also be the introduction of a $10m purse for the money list at the end of the regular season.

"I think the changes to the Tour schedule next year are great," McIlroy said, after revealing he would look to join the PGA Tour's players advisory committee.

"It'll encourage guys to play more. I always feel I start the year a little bit behind everyone else because I have to go over to Europe.

"I turn up in LA [at the Genesis Open in February], and guys have already played 10 events. It'll encourage guys to play a bit more because of the bonus at the end of the regular season, and then obviously you go into the play-offs, and there's a lot of money to be had."

In past years, McIlroy normally appeared at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, although he did skip the European Tour's flagship event in both 2016 and 2017. But that is being moved back to September from next year because of the US PGA Championship which is being brought forward in the calendar.

So this means McIlroy would probably not be seen until the Irish Open in July. He would only have to limit the number of European Tour appearances to the minimum of four to fulfil the membership requirements and so remain eligible for Ryder Cup selection.

The news will come as a big setback to Keith Pelley, th e European Tour's chief executive, who put great store in his Rolex Series - a collection of $7m-plus events - luring the big names back across the pond.

The European Tour can simply not compete with the financial muscle of its American counterpart and Pelley will also be disappointed to hear that Tommy Fleetwood, the order of merit champion, will be cutting back his events on his home tour as well.

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