Friday 19 April 2019

McIlroy: Tour call still up in air but I will do what is best for me

Rory McIlroy hit an opening 69. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy hit an opening 69. Photo: Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy makes no apology for potentially turning his back on the European Tour next season and insisted in Dubai yesterday: "I'm looking out for me!"

The Holywood star (29) has until next May to commit to playing just four European Tour events outside the World Golf Championship and the Majors so he can retain his membership and remain eligible to become a Ryder Cup vice-captain or captain in the future.

Paul McGinley said earlier this week that he found it "quite extraordinary" that Europe's biggest star might not add two more European events to his schedule as the compressed PGA Tour season finishes in August.

The 2014 Ryder Cup captain finds it doubly puzzling that McIlroy would do so at a time when European Tour CEO Keith Pelley is struggling to assemble the strongest fields for his Rolex Series events.

But McIlroy, who was three shots off the lead after opening with a 69 in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, is adamant that if he says no to retaining his membership for 2019 only, it's simply to give himself a better chance of winning more Majors.

"I had a chat with Keith on Friday at Sun City, and told him what my plans were for next year," McIlroy said.

"Look, everyone has to look out for themselves and next year I'm looking out for me. "At the same time, I didn't say that it was a definite. It's up in the air. I don't have to make a decision until May. We'll see how it goes."

His most recent Major win came in the 2014 PGA Championship - 1,559 days ago. But when asked about McGinley's dismay or whether he was worried about causing a stir, McIlroy said: "Geez, I'd cause all the stirs in the world if I go back to winning Majors."

The Co Down man's driving was not at its imperious best but while he was happy to see an improvement yesterday, talk of the knock-on effects of his plans for 2019 turned his smile to a frown. "It's 20 years away," McIlroy replied curtly when asked if the Ryder Cup ramifications would have any influence on his final decision. "So, no?"

As for the tournament, England's Jordan Smith and Spain's Adrian Otaegui both shot six-under 66 to lead by one stroke from defending champion Jon Rahm and the resurgent former Masters champion Danny Willett. Open champion Francesco Molinari tightened his grip on the Race to Dubai despite three-putting the last for a 68 to share fifth.

His nearest rival Tommy Fleetwood made an unlikely 30-footer from a swale right of the green for a 69 in an event he will almost certainly be required to win.

Offaly's Shane Lowry was tied for 22nd after a 70 and pleased to start positively despite struggling at times on the grainy greens.

"It's easy to play your way out of the tournament today, so two-under is an all right start," said Lowry, who birdied just one of the par-fives but feels he can make hay with a later tee-time today. "I left a few out there, to be honest. I hit a couple of loose drives, but my iron play felt really good."

Greystones' Paul Dunne (25) was disappointed to mix five birdies with five bogeys for a level par 72.

In America, Graeme McDowell opened with a three-under 67 to lie five shots behind early leader Charles Howell III in The RSM Classic at Sea Island. As Seamus Power shot a two-under 70 on the Plantation Course where Pádraig Harrington struggled to a three-over 75, Howell III made eight birdies in a 64 to take the early lead.

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