As Irish Open goes to $7m, McIlroy says "it's getting more and more difficult to play two tours"

As Irish Open goes to $7m, McIlroy says "it's getting more and more difficult to play two tours"
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 15:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the 9th hole during a pro-am round ahead of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 15, 2016 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 15:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the 9th hole during a pro-am round ahead of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 15, 2016 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The big news for golf fans back home is that the Dubai Duty Irish Open will be a $7m from next year. It's big for Rory McIlroy too, but what right now he's determined to finish 2016 on a high by  successfully defending the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai and with it return to world No 1 for the first time in 14 months.

The 27-year old Holywood lad has an impressive record at Jumeriah Golf Estates having played in all seven previous editions of the tournament, winning twice and finishing outside the top ten only once.

McIlroy also retains an outside hope of winning a third consecutive Race to Dubai crown, but the four-time Major Champion faces stiff competition from the three players currently ahead of him: Open Champion and Race to Dubai leader, Henrik Stenson, second placed Danny Willett, Masters Champion and Alex Noren, who won for the fourth time in as many months at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge.  

Swede Noren is hoping to extend his stunning run of form after moving into contention for the European Tour’s Number One spot and also into the world’s top ten for the first time.

Meanwhile, McIlroy today also welcome the inclusion of his national Open, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, in the European Tour’s newly unveiled Rolex Series which is a minimum of seven tournaments in seven iconic golfing locations across the world, all offering minimum prize funds of US$ 7 million with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai featuring a prize fund of US$ 8 million.

Plans are in place to increase the number of Rolex Series tournaments in future seasons as part of the multi-year commitment made to the European Tour by the world’s leading Swiss watchmaker.

As the scope of the European Tour expands around the world, golf fans will be brought closer than ever to the leading professionals on the world’s best courses thanks to significantly enhanced television and digital production as well as increased hours of coverage distributed worldwide.

The 2017 Rolex Series will begin in May with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in England and will be followed by two tournaments in July: the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation at Portstewart; and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Dundonald.

The fourth tournament of the Rolex Series next year will be the Italian Open at the Olgiata Golf Club in Rome in October while the final three Rolex Series events will be in November, comprised of the Turkish Airlines Open at Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort; the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in South Africa; and the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

“The Rolex Series announcement is fantastic news," said McIlroy. "I think to be able to bring some of the bigger and best tournaments on The European Tour schedule and put them into this Rolex Series where obviously you're playing for an increased prize fund, is fantastic.

"It's a great thing for The European Tour and our membership. And to have the opportunity to bring more of the best players together more often, I think is going to be a real boost for The European Tour.

“Keith Pelley has been a huge part of that, and I think him getting involved and giving The European Tour a bit of different energy has definitely helped.

"Rolex have stepped up big time, and they have been a great partner for golf for many, many years. But this sort of brings them to another level. So everyone in golf should be grateful for them for what they have done. I'm happy to be a part of it. I'm excited obviously that The Irish Open is a part of it. It's a massive thing for The European Tour.”

Summing up his year, McIlroy made sure to point out that it's becoming increasingly difficult for players to pay on both sides of the pond under the current rules, hinting that something will have give.

"I mean, it's been good. I've won a couple of things that I hadn't won before," he said of 2016.

"I won The Irish Open, which a huge thing personally for me. It mightn't be the biggest tournament in the world, but personally to me in my mind it is one of the biggest I play all year.

"That was nice to be able to knock that off and to win the FedExCup, as well, was big. That was something that I hadn't won before, and to win that, and the fashion that I did, and winning two of the last three Playoff events over there, that was very satisfying.

"My play in majors was disappointing: Missing the cut at the U.S. Open and the PGA; I had a top five at The Open but that was soon forgotten because of what Henrik and Phil did.

Apart from majors aside, I feel like it's been a pretty good, consistent year. But going into next year, I'd like to think that my performances in the majors are going to be better."

With the Irish Open the first of three successive links events culminating in the Open at Royal Birkdale, McIlroy knows that players are not going to play all three but pick and choose.

In effect, the Rolex Series simply gives the stars more incentive to play events they might play anyway but as for the future, European Tour CEO Keith Pelley will have to get inventive.

"I had a meeting with a few of the guys yesterday, and Keith Pelley was involved in this, and I think one of the big consensus is it's getting more and more difficult to play two tours," McIlroy said. "With the regulations that the PGA TOUR are putting upon us and with how great the events are becoming over here, and it's hard to jump back and forth and play tournaments.

"It is very, very difficult, and you've seen players that have tried it before and it just doesn't quite work for them. It takes a certain type of player and a certain type of mentality to be able to do it.

"So I think you might see more guys spending prolonged periods in either/or, because jumping back and forth, you can do it for so long, but in the long run, it just doesn't work too well."

Asked by the large British press contingent about Danny Willett's poor end to the year and the pressures he's faced, McIlroy spoke of his brand.

"It's tough. It's a long year. But you know, it's great. Great opportunities; you go play different parts of the world; you try to expose your brand to different markets," he said. "He's a Masters champion; he's got a green jacket. There's loads of places in the Far East and Asia that love that. So it's a great opportunity for him to do that, so while he has it, he may as well take advantage of it."

As for his search for new equipment following Nike's decision to quit the hardware business, McIlroy will allow himself to be wooed by prospective suitors over a 10-day period in Dubai in December.

"Yeah, I'm a bit of a free agent at the minute. There's been approaches made left, right and centre, and it's been nice. But yeah, look, I'm pretty set with what I'm playing right now. Obviously I put TaylorMade woods in the bag in China. I've still got those in the bag here.

"But after this tournament, I'm going to go -- I've got a little bit of travel to do, but I'm coming back here to Dubai in the middle of December for ten days and I'm going to test. I'm going to spend a few days with a few different equipment companies and test and see what they have, and really just see what works best for me.

"But it's really all up in the air. I mean, I might find a ball that works. I might find a set of irons that work. It could be a real mix-match of golf clubs in my bag come early 2017. But it's nice to have the option."

As for the carrot of becoming world No 1 again for the first time since September last year, he said: "It's a big incentive for me. It's been a while since I've been in that spot. So yeah, that's really — you know, the last few years, I knew if I won this tournament, I would win The Race to Dubai.

"Now I know if I win this tournament, I'll finish the year at world No. 1. So it's a big incentive for me to try and get that back. It would be nice to have that little bit of momentum going into next year."