McIlroy set for busy Masters build-up; pal remains as caddie

McIlroy set for busy Masters build-up; pal remains as caddie
 Rory McIlroy will make his debut at Pebble Beach

Rory McIlroy will make his debut at Pebble Beach

Rory McIlroy plans to continue with Harry Diamond on his bag and play an unprecedented eight events before bidding to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters.

Sources close to the four-time major winner confirmed yesterday that the most lucrative bag in golf will remain with McIlroy's childhood pal, who took over from JP Fitzgerald in August.

McIlroy (28) has been working on his fitness since he downed tools after his first winless campaign since 2008 eight weeks ago.

He hasn't won a major since he claimed the fourth of his grand slam titles at the 2014 US PGA but with the Masters remaining his big goal, he plans to play an unprecedented eight times before teeing it up at Augusta National on April 5.

He released his early 2018 schedule yesterday and plans to play the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (Jan 18-21) and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (Jan 25-28) before teeing it up in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the first time.

He then plays the Genesis Open in Los Angeles and the Honda Classic in Florida but will skip the following week's WGC-Mexico Championship before returning for his debut in the Valspar Championship (March 8-11).

The world number ten will then put the finishing touches to his Masters preparations in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin for his busiest start to a season since his seven-event build-up for the 2016 Masters.

"It's just about trying to gain an advantage here or there," said McIlroy, who could play just four times before the Masters this year after suffering a stress fracture to his ribs in January.

"So [I'm] just reassessing everything and making sure I'm not leaving any stone unturned and do everything I can to get back to [being] the best player in the world."

Gavin Moynihan is also looking ahead to 2018 after his momentous 2017 ended with a likely missed the cut at the storm-delayed Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club.

While he followed an opening 72 with a two-under 69 on the Bushwillow Course, he was a shot outside the top 70 and ties as Finn Tapio Pulkkanen shot an immaculate 64 on the Firethorn Course to lead by a stroke on 14-under-par from India's Shubhankar Sharma.

"That's my 2017 over," tweeted Moynihan, who also missed the cut in Mauritius last week. "Not the two weeks I wanted but a great year overall. Starting the year with no category anywhere and to finish it with a European tour card is great."

At the European Senior Tour's season-ending MCB Championship in Mauritius, Mark McNulty shot a six-under 66 to share second with Barry Lane and Thaworn Wiratchant, one shot behind Australia's Peter Fowler.

Paul McGinley birdied his last three holes for a 70 and a share of 13th with Des Smyth tied 18th after a 71, Brendan McGovern tied 31st after a 72 and Philip Walton tied 48th after a 76.

At the QBE Shootout in Florida, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell made ten birdies in the scramble format in a 10-under-par 62 to lie five shots off the lead.

Steve Stricker and Sean O'Hair made an eagle and 13 birdies in a 15-under 57 at the Tiburón Golf Club at The Ritz-Carlton Resort in Naples to lead by a shot from Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley with McDowell and Lowry tied for seventh ahead of today's greensomes.