Former World No 1 Rory McIlroy's 2019 membership issue could give European Tour sleepless nights

Dubai: A bunch of reasons ranging from a crowded calendar to Rory McIlroy's desire to focus on adding to his tally of Majors, which has remained unchanged at four since 2014, could rob the European Tour of its most charismatic star for 2019.

For the last ten-odd years, McIlroy has been the poster boy of the Tour and been No 1 three times besides winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championships twice.

Golf - 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National - Guyancourt, France - September 30, 2018 - Team Europe's Rory McIlroy during the Singles REUTERS/Paul Childs - UP1EE9U0TA8ZU

Rory McIlroy was part of the 2018 Ryder Cup-winning Team Europe. Reuters/Paul Childs

If he goes ahead with his plan of not taking up the 2019 membership, it may leave the Tour in a rather embarrassing situation. As of now, McIlroy indicated he may play only two 'pure' European Tour events till August and those potentially are the European Masters (because of a sponsorship obligation) and the Scottish Open, which comes a week before The Open.

McIlroy still nurses the desire to play the Ryder Cup regularly. If he does not take up his membership for 2019, he could play his way back to the Ryder Cup in 2020 but it would hit his chances of becoming a Ryder Cup captain in the future.

To stay a member and have a future chance of leading a Ryder Cup team, McIlroy would need to play at least four events and he has committed only to two so far.

A European Tour ruling made last year says that a player cannot be a captain or a vice-captain if they decline membership of the Tour or fail to fulfil the minimum obligation in any season. Amidst much speculation, McIlroy maintained that his decision has much to do with the way the schedule is going to be next year.

Admitting that not rejoining the European Tour would be a big shift in his schedule, he said, "Right now, that is all sort of up in the air but if it were to be that I don't fulfil my membership next year, I won't play in the Ryder Cup. 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 before that."

The Majors and the WGC are going to be his focus. "If I want to continue to contend in the Majors and 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."

According to McIlroy, his decisions are based on the way the season is packed. "Everything is going to be so condensed between March and August. That is why I am taking a big off-season to get myself ready and to have that break and then go at it hard from March all the way through to the end of the season." After this week's DP World Tour Championship, McIlroy will play only once in the next 13 weeks.

On the membership issue, he said, "As for remaining a member of both Tours? I don't know. Right now I've got two events on my schedule in Europe and I don't have to commit to that until next year. I am starting my year off in the States (Tournament of Champions) and that will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August and then we will access from there. I've got a couple of 'pure' European Tour events on my schedule up until 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."

McIlroy will skip the new Rolex event in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Classic in early 2019. Since the latter is an Omega event, he will play the European Masters in Crans Montana, because he is obligated to play at least one Omega event. Since, as he said, he always plays the week before the Majors, he will likely play the Scottish Open before The Open in Portrush.

The other theory is he might play his 'home' event, the Irish Open and it would count for four, which would then make him eligible for membership.

The 2019 tournament calendar has undergone massive changes on both sides of the Atlantic. The US PGA Championship, traditionally the year's final major, will move from August to May and the Players Championship will move to March.

So, the FedEx Cup playoffs will take place a month earlier in August and the European Tour's showcase BMW PGA Championship is being shifted to September in Wentworth instead of May.

The 29-year-old McIlroy hit the spotlight in 2007 by securing his European Tour card in just his second event by finishing third in the 2007 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The first of his 23 pro titles came in the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic and the European Tour has since had him as their flag bearer. He has four Majors and was European Tour No. 1 in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

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Updated Date: Nov 13, 2018 20:40:16 IST