Sunday 19 January 2020

Less is more for McIlroy

Karl MacGinty

THERE'S no cut at this week's DP World Tour Championship so barring illness, accident or an act of Allah, Rory McIlroy will play all four days of the European Tour's $8m end-of-season extravaganza in Dubai.

McIlroy took the chequered flag in the Race to Dubai in Singapore last Sunday week but the hottest ticket in European golf at least will do a complete 72-hole lap of honour on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Sadly, the promoters of the UBS Hong Kong Open had no such luxury. Unusually, when the plainly fatigued world No 1 crashed out of their tournament last Friday, they issued a media statement explaining (to the uninitiated, one assumes) why poster boy McIlroy would not be appearing on Saturday or Sunday at Fanling.

"The very nature of golf dictates that players, however good, cannot be at their best each and every week," it read.

"Like us, he was disappointed he could not find his very best on the course this week but it certainly was not for the want of trying and his absence over the last two rounds in no way detracts from..." etc, etc.

Guess they feared ticket-holders would feel it was like the prince going home before the last act of Hamlet.


Yet their statement helped emphasise the powerful business as well as sporting imperatives behind McIlroy's intention to trim his tournament schedule in 2013. He hopes to play 22 or 23 events next year, down from 26 in 2012 (which excludes his 18-hole challenge match with Tiger Woods in China last month in which the American was reportedly paid a fee of $2m and McIlroy $1m).

Of course, the Hong Kong Open organisers stressed that McIlroy fulfilled his commitments to the event. And with the possible exception of Tiger at his peak, every player misses the occasional cut.

That they felt the need to say anything at all illustrates how the Ulsterman's stellar achievements and his status as world No 1 bring fresh responsibility, elevated expectation and pressure few of us could imagine.

However, McIlroy's greatest duty is to himself and ensuring he has every opportunity to play to his potential every time he tees up – and astute scheduling is as important as practice.

Circumstance was against McIlroy in Hong Kong. To clinch the Race to Dubai after a series of near-misses and emulate Luke Donald's unlikely double of topping the money list in the US and Europe in the same year was a heady high... he simply had to come down!

Compounding this was the exceptional intensity of McIlroy's autumn schedule, in which the 23-year-old played seven full-blooded events in nine weeks between the Bridgestone World Golf Championship and the Ryder Cup at Medinah.

This spell included his second Major Championship victory at Kiawah in the US PGA and mesmeric back-to-back wins at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships.

Not even the talismanic Ian Poulter expended as much adrenalin in that period. Yet as experienced campaigners like Phil Mickelson and Tiger have played just twice since Medinah, this week's outing in Dubai will be McIlroy's fifth in the same period.

Though Europe is expected to introduce a four-tournament FedEx Cup-style play-off series in 2013, making it less likely for the Race to Dubai to be decided before the grand finale, McIlroy will still have the opportunity to take up to five weeks off after the US season finishes with the Tour Championship.

McIlroy's participation in Abu Dhabi has already been announced, while his three-year sponsorship deal with Jumeirah doesn't officially expire until February 4, the day after the Dubai Desert Classic, making the Emirates Club a likely port of call.

With the gap between Doral and the Masters growing to four weeks this year, it is understood McIlroy is to choose between the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Shell Houston Open to keep him sharp.

While McIlroy adds one tournament in March, he's expected to drop the St Jude Classic in June, the week before the US Open. If the five-week period between Wells Fargo and Memorial looks cluttered, especially with a return trip across the Atlantic to the BMW PGA, McIlroy will come under pressure to show loyalty to both Tour showpieces at Sawgrass and Wentworth.

The Irish Open at Carton House is more of a must-stop. Similarly, the run from the British Open to the Tour Championship takes care of itself, with the US PGA and FedEx play-off events more favourably spaced next year.

McIlroy will be under no obligation to play before the four events which bring the European Tour season to a climax, while the desire to streamline his schedule should overpower any temptation to overload the barrow.

If feasible, McIlroy expects to play just two of the three events leading up to the European Tour's Dubai climax.

Having won at Lake Malaren, home of the BMW Masters, and with the HSBC Champions taking on full World Golf Championship status in 2013, with points counting in the following year's FedEx Cup race, these two events appear more likely to take McIlroy's fancy than the new Turkish Open.

It's easy to draw up a schedule but he must have the discipline to stick to just 22 or 23 strategically placed events each year. The more clinical, even selfish, McIlroy becomes in compiling his schedule will ultimately determine how many Majors he wins.

Irish Independent

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