MAUI, Hawaii — Rory McIlroy will make his debut at the Tournament of Champions this week, but it wasn’t the breathtaking ocean views that influenced his decision to tee it up here.
The Northern Irishman, who traditionally starts his year in Abu Dhabi in late January, says he is kicking off 2019 at the Plantation Course because he is tired of playing catch-up in the PGA Tour’s Fall Series.
“I’m sick of getting to Florida [in February] and being like 100th in the FedEx Cup,” McIlroy told GOLF.com on Monday. “It’s going to be nice to get a faster start and hopefully be up in the FedEx Cup from the beginning.”
The four-time major champion came under fire recently — notably from former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley — for suggesting that he might play fewer events in Europe in 2019 and forfeit his European Tour membership. McGinley called McIlroy’s U.S.-centric approach “very disappointing” in a column he wrote for Sky Sports.
Euro Tour players are required to play at least four events on the circuit outside the majors and World Golf Championships, but McIlroy indicated he might only play two. He said Monday he doesn’t feel obligated to play regularly on the European Tour — where he has won seven times outside the majors and WGCs — given he earned his way onto the circuit.
“A lot of guys have this sort of loyalty to the European Tour, which is great,” McIlroy said. “But it’s not as if we all got handed starts; you’ve got to qualify to get on.”
“I’m still going to play in Europe and [the fans] are still going to see me play — maybe not as regularly as it used to be — but that’s just a product of where the global schedule is right now and where my life is right now.”
Instead, McIlroy’s U.S. season gets underway at the winners-only, no-cut Tournament of Champions starting Thursday.
“I’ve traveled the world for 12 years playing professional golf,” McIlroy said. I’m still going to be a world player, but I don’t want that hopping back and forth over the Atlantic as much as I used to do.”
McIlroy feels a heavier U.S. schedule suits both his family and career as he approaches age 30. “My life’s here; I live in the States [and] my wife is American,” he said. “Everything is moving this way in the world; it just makes sense.”
McIlroy played 18 events on the PGA Tour in 2018, banking more than $4 million in prize money courtesy of his Arnold Palmer Invitational victory and six other top-10s.
He said the PGA Tour has “better fields, deeper fields and golf courses that probably suit my game a little bit more. It’s where I’ve had the majority of success in my career. Obviously, I’ve played well in Europe and done well but I feel comfortable over here. I know that if I play well I can be very successful.”
McIlroy’s last win on the PGA Tour came in March, when he snapped an 18-month winless drought at Bay Hill. Before that his last U.S. title was the 2016 Tour Championship.
“I’m finally healthy, I’m feeling good, I’ve got the schedule I want and I’m settled in my life,” said McIlroy, who struggled with injuries in both 2017 and 2015. “I had 10 top-10s worldwide [in 2018], I played in six final groups, I had probably 10 realistic chances to win but to only convert one of them was disappointing.
“But it’s about putting myself in those positions, so the more often I do that the better. Last year was probably getting to that point and this year is a clear road ahead.”