'Why would you play over there?' - Rory McIlroy brands European Tour a 'stepping stone' after switching focus to PGA circuit
Rory McIlroy will put on a power show in the $6.5m Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii tonight - in more ways that one.
The Holywood star will be relishing the chance to show off his driving prowess on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, where the bombers produced seven of last season's top-10 longest drives. But in making his 2019 debut there rather than Abu Dhabi in a fortnight to compete on the European Tour - a circuit he describes as "a stepping stone" - he's proving that in the modern game, the top players call all the shots.
Just ask European Tour CEO Keith Pelley, who has problems getting large numbers of Europe's stars to play in the lucrative, eight-event Rolex Series.
McIlroy has turned down the chance to play in Hawaii six times because he traditionally starts his season with well-renumerated appearances in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But with the Major season now compressed between April and July as the US PGA moves into May, he believes playing almost exclusively in the US this year can only help him improve his world ranking and his Major tally.
"I want to play against the best players in the world," McIlroy told AP. "I get a buzz from that. I'd much rather go down the stretch against Justin Thomas or Dustin Johnson.
"I'm not putting anyone down in Europe, but the depths of the field and everything is just that bit better over here.
"It's what everyone is striving for. It's why Francesco Molinari is here this week. It's where it's heading."
While skipping the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch could prove to be a costly own-goal in the PR stakes, should that come to pass, such considerations are secondary - his heart now lies in America.
"The ultimate goal is here," McIlroy said of the US circuit. "The European Tour is a stepping stone. That's the truth."
The European Tour's Rolex Series might comprise seven events worth $7 million as well as the $8m DP World Tour Championship. But there are 21 "pure" PGA Tour events worth over $7m this season, many of them rich in world ranking points.
"It's so one-sided," McIlroy said. "That's the thing. Look, you can talk all you want about these bigger events in Europe, but you can go to America and play for more money and more ranking points."
He added: "It's not as though I'm just starting out and jumping ship. I've done my time. I've done everything I feel like I need to do to say, 'OK, I'm going to make my own decisions and do what I want."