McIlroy ready for Sentry Tournament of Champions debut as Koepka bids to hold onto world number one spot
Rory McIlroy is ready to begin his season at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui, Hawaii when the PGA Tour returns on Thursday.
The former world number one, who has qualified on six previous occasions, make his debut this year as he prepares to switch his focus more to the PGA Tour.
The 29-year-old Irishman, one of nine newcomers, is reducing his European Tour commitments in an effort to add to his four major titles.
In recent seasons, McIlroy has begun his playing year during the European Tour's series of tournaments in the Middle East but announced in November that he would be focusing on the PGA Tour until the end of August.
McIllroy has now set up home in Florida and has committed to playing only two European Tour events for 2019 so far. He must play four outside the majors and World Golf Championship competitions to retain his Tour membership.
"I'm still going to play in Europe and [the fans] are still going to see me play - maybe not as regularly as it used to be - but that's just a product of where the global schedule is right now and where my life is right now," McIlroy recently told Golf.com. "I've travelled the world for 12 years playing professional golf. I'm still going to be a world player, but I don't want that hopping back and forth over the Atlantic as much as I used to do."
Meanwhile, Justin Rose could regain the world number-one spot without hitting a shot. Rose is one of three notable qualifiers opting not to play in the first event of 2019.
American Brooks Koepka begins the new year as world number one but could quickly lose it again to Rose if he fails to post a strong finish on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, host of the tournament since 1999.
And Koepka will face stern competition from a field which consists only of PGA Tour winners from the previous calendar year.
Of the 37 qualifiers, 34 have made the trip to Hawaii, with Tiger Woods, who qualified with his victory at the Tour Championship in September, and Phil Mickelson the only others apart from Rose electing to not take part.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson leads the way as he looks to win the event for a third time, something only five players have done in the tournament's 66-year history.
Johnson will play the opening two rounds alongside Bryson DeChambeau, who hopes to continue a red-hot stretch that has included three wins in his last five PGA Tour starts.
European Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari will also feature in the 34-strong field, along with Englishman Paul Casey, who will make his first appearance in the tournament since 2010.