Rory McIlroy looks to have made a dramatic u-turn and changed his 2019 schedule to ensure he does not lose European Tour membership.
The Northern Irishman said in November, when contesting the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, that he was planning to give up his European Tour membership in favour of concentrating on the PGA Tour in 2019.
With the four-time major winning planning to spend the majority of his time stateside, rather than spreading it between both tours as in previous years, it would have meant McIlroy not playing in enough tournaments on the European Tour schedule in 2019 to fulfil the minimum requirement for membership.
That requirement is four tournaments outside of the four majors and World Golf Championship events, which are co-sanctioned by both tours. That rule was brought in from 2018 and McIlroy would fall short with his planned programme of playing the majority of next year in the United States.
But, according to newspaper reports, talks between McIlroy and European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley have resulted in the likelihood that he will not play in two of three tournaments—the Dubai Desert Classic, Irish Open and BMW PGA Championship—to reach the threshold for membership. The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is another event that could be shoehorned into McIlroy’s schedule to preserve his European Tour membership.
McIlroy had played on the Desert Swing in 2018 when starting the year with top-3 finishes in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, two of the tournaments he could yet commit to for 2019. He was also second in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, an event which has moved to later in the year in 2019.
McIlroy had previously said: “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.”
Failure to meet the four-tournament threshold means McIlroy would sacrifice the chance to be a Ryder Cup captain in future years, although that is something about which the 29-year-old has never had any thoughts.
McIlroy has faced criticism for his original decision from several current and former European Tour stars, but it was the direct meeting with Pelley that is said to have resulted in his choice to go back on his original decision.
McIlroy will, however, start his season in the United States with his first appearance of 2019 set to come in the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in the first week of January. He qualified for the event courtesy of his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational during the 2018 season.
The Sony Open, also in Hawaii the following week, Desert Classic, Farmers Insurance Open, Waste Management Phoenix Open, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship, Honda Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Players Championship, WGC Matchplay and Texas Open all take place in the opening three months of the season ahead of The Masters at Augusta in April.