Rory McIlroy says he has “no regrets” about his decision to delay sending in his European Tour membership forms until late April, despite the fact that it has cost him the chance to win a fourth Race To Dubai title this week.
This was no clerical blunder on behalf of McIlroy or his staff, but rather the central part of a dispute with the Tour during which the Irishman threatened to quit his home circuit for the 2019 season. Eventually the situation, believed to centre on appearance fees, was rectified and McIlroy rejoined just before the May 1 deadline.
In the intervening period, however, McIlroy racked up a second place at the World Golf Championship event in Mexico, a 21st at the Masters, and a tie for ninth at the WGC Match Play. Ultimately none of these performances were allowed under the regulations to count in the European Tour’s season-long race.
If those results had applied in the standings, McIlroy would now be in third place instead of sixth and in with an chance of overhauling leader Bernd Wiesberger at the DP World Tour Championship final, which starts on Thursday. Not only does the Race To Dubai champion collect the Harry Vardon Trophy, but also a $2 million bonus. But McIlroy is not for sobbing.
“I’ve earned enough money this year; I’m fine,” McIlroy said. "I mean, it [the Race to Dubai title] wasn't on my radar at the start of the year… I’ve still got a chance to win this tournament and that's enough for me to be here.”
In some ways this was a curious statement by the 30-year-old, as he has previously expressed such pride in being crowned Europe’s No 1. No doubt, with the overload of riches and garlands on offer on the PGA Tour, this “Order of Merit” honour is not as coveted as it was in the days of Colin Montgomerie. But McIlroy’s indifference also indicates where he is in his career.
Having scooped $15m in August at the FedEx Cup, the US equivalent to the Race To Dubai, McIlroy can easily shrug his shoulders at the prospect of another $2m, no matter how obscene that might seem, and with four titles already in his 2019 locker, the silverware is hardly a problem. Been here, done this.
“I've won this [the Race to Dubai] three times,” McIlroy said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do it, but I just haven't played enough ‘counting' European Tour events to have a chance. You know, look at someone like a Bernd who’s played 25, 26, 27 times, whatever it is. Those are the guys that deserve to be up there with a chance to win.”
While McIlroy’s magnanimity is gracious, this event would clearly be a more attractive proposition to the Tour, sponsors, media and fans if the star draw was in contention to grab the season’s big prize. All things being equal, McIlroy would be only a few points behind Tommy Fleetwood, knowing that if he won the tournament then Wiesberger would have needed to come second to have denied him.
And with McIlroy’s great recent form — including a win in China on his last start three weeks ago — and his record at the Jumeirah Golf Estates, he is understandably confident of topping this tournament’s leaderboard on Sunday evening.
“The way I've been playing over the last few months, if I go out and do my thing, then hopefully, I’ll give myself another chance,” he said. “I feel I could play this place blindfolded. I've been coming here for ten years - I know the place like the back of my hand.”
Indeed, not even the absence of regular caddie Harry Diamond, who is back home in Northern Ireland after the birth of his first child, is denting McIlroy's self-belief. The world No 2’s friend Niall O’Connor, the former Ulster and Ireland A outside-half, has stepped into the breach and McIlroy has promised him a “fun week”. Alas, it should really be a week with so much more potential.