After dropping a bombshell this week that he was resigning as the player director of the PGA Tour’s policy board, Rory McIlroy will aim to win a third DP World Tour Championship, which starts at the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates from Thursday.
The Northern Irishman has already wrapped up his fifth Race to Dubai (Order of Merit) title and is assured of a $2-million bonus without hitting a golf shot this week.
He will now have to battle the world No 3 Jon Rahm and No 4 Viktor Hovland for a third DP World Tour Championship title and the $3-million winner’s cheque.
McIlroy, who has been the de facto spokesperson for the PGA Tour in its battle against LIV Golf, had said earlier in the year that he wanted to focus on his own game.
On Wednesday, he was part of a long telephone conversation with other board members – a person close to McIlroy said it stretched for six hours – and sent his resignation to commissioner Jay Monahan after that.
The world No 2 had met the press before that and gave no inkling of the move.
McIlroy refused to comment on his decision on Wednesday, but ahead of the PGA Championship in May, he said: “I would rather people be talking about me for my golf rather than stuff that I am doing behind the scenes or what I have said in a press conference.
“But now that the wheels have been set in motion it is time to focus on me and focus on playing great golf and trying to get back to winning ways.”
The $10.5-million season-ending championship, with a limited field of 50 players, has attracted all top-50 players in the points list for the first time.
It is also the first time in the 15-year history of the tournament that the Race to Dubai champion has been determined in the penultimate event of the season.
McIlroy, winner of two Rolex Series events this year, has amassed 5,166.47 points. Second-placed Rahm is 3,081.94 points behind, which means even if he wins this week (2,000 points), he will still not be able to catch his Ryder Cup teammate.
Both players have phenomenal records on the Earth course.
McIlroy has finished outside the top-10 only twice and has only five over-par rounds in 12 appearances, including wins in 2012 and 2015.
Rahm, the defending champion, has three wins in four starts (2017, 2019, 2022), and a tied fourth in 2018. His worst score over the 16 rounds is a two-under 70.
“It’s been a date that I always look forward to. I’ve always had a lot of fun in the city. I’ve been treated really well, and the golf has always luckily been very great, as well,” said The Masters champion.
“I think it [the Race to Dubai contest being over] is more disappointing for the fans. At the same time, though, it’s really my fault.
“He [McIlroy] played great golf. I could have tried to get more points for myself for a chance this week. He did what he needed to do. I didn’t.”
Hovland will be another player to watch out for after a sensational season that included winning the $18-million FedEx Cup for his three wins on the PGA Tour.
“I love golf here,” said the Norwegian, who won the Hero Dubai Desert Classic down the road at Emirates Golf Club last year.
“The golf courses are really good. The weather is nice. Food is good. I just really enjoy coming here. But obviously would like to win on another course over here and I think this course suits me well.”
Hovland may also benefit from having taken some time away from the course.
“I took three weeks off and I didn’t really touch a club at all. I can’t remember the last time I’ve taken three weeks off.
“The game was a little bit rusty, of course, but I would say this is kind of the first time in my career where I felt like I haven’t completely forgotten the techniques. I know what to do.”
Another point of interest this year would be the 10 PGA Tour cards on offer for the top-10 non-exempt DP World Tour members as part of the strategic alliance between the two Tours.
© Agence France-Presse