Rory McIlroy’s stateside focus throws Lahinch pledge up in air

July’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch could be Rory McIlroy’s first European Tour appearance of 2019 after the Northern Irishman yesterday confirmed he will play the majority of his golf in America in 2019.

The three-time Race to Dubai champion said he’ll be spending most of his time in the US next year because the Players’ Championship and the US PGA have been brought forward to March and May respectively. 

That has pushed the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, to September.

McIlroy, 29, has committed to the Irish Open at Lahinch from July 4-7, and organisers will be hoping that pledge still holds true. 

McIlroy is already locked in, for sponsorship reasons, to the European Masters in Switzerland next September, while both the BBC and Golf World suggested he is leaning towards competing in the Scottish Open instead of the Irish Open.

McIlroy believes the “true European Tour season” does not start until July, when he will decide between Lahinch or Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club.

“I am going to try and play the week before majors as three of my four major wins have been by playing the week before,” he added.

McIlroy’s revised plans suggest he will not fulfill the requirements for European Tour membership in 2019, a decision which would rule him out of being a Ryder Cup captain or vice-captain in the future. 

Players must be a member of the European Tour to be eligible to play in the Ryder Cup and, under new regulations introduced in January 2017, “players cannot be a European Ryder Cup captain or a vice-captain if they decline membership of the European Tour or fail to fulfil their minimum event obligation in any season, from 2018 onwards”.

McIlroy needs to appear in a minimum of four regular events, including his home tournament. But because of the revamp to the golf calendar — which sees the US PGA Championship moving forward from August to May — the Holywood man is unsure how often he will return to his home tour.

“Everything is up in the air,” McIlroy said. “I am starting my year off in the States and that will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August and then we will assess from there,” McIlroy said ahead of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

“I’ve got a couple of pure European Tour events on my schedule up to the end of August. I guess my thing is that I want to play against the strongest fields week-in and week-out and for the most part of the season that is in America. If I want to continue to contend in the majors and to continue my journey back towards the top of the game, then that’s what I want to do.

“Right now, that is all sort of up in the air, but if it were to be that I don’t fulfill my membership next year, it’s not a Ryder Cup year so it’s not the end of the world. I am always going to want to play the Ryder Cup, so if that does happen so be it and I will try and make the Ryder Cup team the year after.”

McIlroy’s decision will be a major blow to European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, who launched the Rolex Series last year in an effort to prevent Europe’s star names from flocking to the lucrative PGA Tour. 

The eight events each have a prize fund of at least €6 million, with the BMW PGA Championship moving to September and the Italian Open to October following the US PGA Championship switching from August to May.

“It is a big shift but I think it’s good for a lot of reasons,” McIlroy added. “It is good for the European Tour because they have events to shine.”

McIlroy’s slim chance to win the Race to Dubai for the fourth time disappeared when he was unable to win the Nedbank but he said 2018 hasn’t been a disappointing campaign as a whole.

“I’d maybe give it like a B, a B minus, and a win this week would get it up to a B,” he said. 

“I don’t want to continue to dwell on the negatives. I’ve had 10 top-10s. I finished second and had a great chance to win The Open. I played in the final group and had a great chance to win the Masters. I’ve had chances to win big, big tournaments.

“Obviously, the game’s right there. It’s just a matter of doing it when I need to do it most. Results-wise, it hasn’t been the year that I wanted.

“In ‘16 and ‘17 combined, I played in three or four final groups. That’s been a real big positive. But there’s a difference between getting into those final groups and finishing the job.”

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