As he first hinted late last month in Boston, Rory McIlroy has formally revealed the pressure he was under from the European Tour to add this week’s British Masters to his injury-reduced schedule this season.
It was just 10 days ago McIlroy surprised many in confirming he would contest just a second British Masters in his career and also 10 years to the month after the fanfare of turning professional in the same event in 2007.
In doing so, McIlroy required an invitation to tee-up on the host Close House course located near Newcastle in north-east England given he had missed by a fortnight the cut-off date for applying through the Tour to compete.
McIlroy had been stating for weeks while competing on the PGA Tour his only event on the European Tour, ahead of ‘shutting down’ his season and allowing his rib injury to properly heal, would be next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.
However, it has been known since the start of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Play-Off Series the European Tour was far from pleased with McIlroy he would not be contesting the mandatory five ‘regular’ events.
“I would have liked to think they (European Tour) knew where I was coming from when I mentioned I would be only playing the Dunhill,” said McIlroy the day before his defence of the Dell Technologies in Boston.
In fact, had McIlroy elected to simply contest the Alfred Dunhill Links he would have competed in just four ‘regular’ Tour stops with the other three being the BMW SA Open, Irish Open and Scottish Open.
As well, the European Tour introduced new rules pertaining for qualifying for the Ryder Cup and the last thing McIlroy also wants is to fall foul of those.
Also what McIlroy also did not need, and in a year where he now has just two events remaining to win a first tournament and thereby continue a run since 2008 of having won at least one event a year since turning pro, was the embarrassment of forfeiting European Tour membership.
“I want to play Ryder Cup next year so I’ve got to play my five events in Europe,” he said.
“So that was a big decision into that. There’s minimum tournaments you need to play and stuff like that, and I’ve sort of been quite close to the edge on minimums and stuff the last few years.
“So, I didn’t really want to put The European Tour in another sticky position.
“So I thought, I’ll play an extra one and not have to make them make the hard decision and have to answer to the membership about why I didn’t play the minimum when I could have and all that sort of stuff.
“Yes, I want to play Ryder Cup next year.
“So, I am a bit of an unexpected addition but happy to be here.
“I haven’t played the British Masters as it’s sort of come back on the scene the last few years. I haven’t played it since 2008, I guess, when it was at The Belfry so it’s been a while since I’ve played this tournament and happy to be back.
“I have this week competing, next week, and then I am taking a few weeks off to try and get a bit better and a bit healthier.
“So I will be giving it my all the next couple of weeks and see how we go.”
McIlroy could also face questions from the European Tour rank and file following last week’s comments that a World Tour “has to happen” and that the “easy thing” would be for the PGA Tour to buy the European Tour.
But the four-time Major winner insisted he had merely been thinking out loud when he made the comments.
“I wasn’t saying it was going to happen next year, in five years or even 10 years’ time, but I think at some point something may happen,” McIlroy said.
“It was sort of just thinking out loud and seeing where this game was going – if I was to try to see 10 years into the future, where would the game be.
“I just think with where golf is and how the world is so much smaller now, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be events in Europe and why there shouldn’t be events in the States, but for everyone to maybe try to work together a little bit more.
“Maybe still having two separate entities, that’s totally fine. Because at the end of the day, the European Tour has to do what’s right for them, the PGA Tour has to do what’s right for them and they have to do what’s right for their members, and you have to give everyone playing opportunities on both sides of the world.
“I don’t know how it would work. It was just me throwing an idea out there and me throwing a thought out there. There’s so many moving parts to it and it’s so complicated but maybe one day, that’s all I was really saying.”
McIlroy will contest the opening two rounds of the £3m ($US 4.02m ) event in the company of 2016 Ryder Cup team colleagues Matthew Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan.
IRISH TEE TIMES FOR ROUND 1 –
Rory McIlroy – 8.10am, Shane Lowry – 8.20am, Paul Dunne – 9am, Graeme McDowell – 12.20pm.