Rory McIlroy admits the new-look European Tour is unlikely to spark a major change in his schedule as he defended Jon Rahm’s decision to miss the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
The European Tour will be known as the DP World Tour from the start of the 2022 season next week and boasts total prize money of more than 200million US dollars (£147million) for the first time.
The lucrative Rolex Series expands from four tournaments to five and the DP World Tour Championship will have a prize fund of 10m US dollars (£7.35m), the first regular European Tour event with an eight-figure purse.
But with similar figures commonplace across the Atlantic, Florida-based McIlroy will continue to focus on the PGA Tour, where he overcame struggling with his game to win twice in what he described as a season of “exploration and learning”.
“I live in America. That’s where I’m going to play the majority of my golf,” McIlroy said. “I just think it’s a great thing for this Tour that the members that play on this Tour full-time have a place to play long into the future.
“But for me personally, I think I’m just going to play the same schedule that I’ve basically played for the last sort of five years. It may encourage me to add an event here or there, (but) for the most part I’ll probably keep doing what I’ve done the last few years.”
McIlroy missed the DP World Tour Championship last year and this week’s event will be without world number one Rahm, even though he had the chance to win the Race to Dubai for the second time in three years.
The US Open champion cited the demands of a long season for his absence and McIlroy said: “I fully understand. He just won his first major this year, he’s had his first child, he won this thing the year before last.
“He’s given his all all year. He’s had his trials and tribulations as well. He was an absolute star at the Ryder Cup for us. He couldn’t have given more and he’s given a lot to the European Tour already.
“He goes to Spain and plays those events there in his home country. I don’t think anyone can criticise him for not being here this week.”
Rahm’s absence means six players can win the Race to Dubai title at Jumeirah Golf Estates, with Open champion Collin Morikawa and Billy Horschel in line to become the first Americans to do so.
Victory for either pacesetter Morikawa or second-placed Horschel would guarantee them the title, while Tyrrell Hatton, Min Woo Lee, Paul Casey and Matt Fitzpatrick need to win and see other results go their way to come out on top.
“To be here and have a chance to win the Race to Dubai is something I wouldn’t have dreamed about,” said Horschel, who became the second American after Arnold Palmer to win the BMW PGA Championship in September.
“I did grow up watching a lot of the European Tour coverage but I never envisioned myself playing so to be in the spot I am now I think this is the best year I’ve had in my career.
“I know I won the FedEx Cup but I didn’t play great that year until the very end. This year I’ve been consistent and to win two massive events and then add possibly the Race to Dubai would be by far the best of my career and another step to my goal of being a Hall of Famer.”
Defending champion Fitzpatrick is seeking an historic third win in the event on a Fire Course he feels he could play “blindfolded”, but the 27-year-old from Sheffield will also need Morikawa to finish worse than ninth and Horschel outside the top five.
“I’m higher up than I was last year and I won and finished second (to Lee Westwood), so I kind of just presumed if I did the same again I’ve got a good chance of winning,” Fitzpatrick said.