Rory McIlroy teed off his 2019 season in Hawaii last night admitting that mid-season burn out is his biggest challenge as he bids to get back to the very top of the game.
The Co Down man (29) believes it’s crucial he remains fresh and motivated between the US Open in mid-June through to the end of the FedEx Cup play-offs in late August.
And while he has yet to make a definitive, public pronouncement on his summer plans, skipping events he might have played in the past is high on the agenda.
What that means for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch from July 4-7 remains to be seen but with the Holywood star hoping to play the week before most majors, he faces some tough decisions if he’s to avoid the mid-summer madness.
“There are some events I have played regularly in the past that I am going to have to sit out,” McIlroy said on the eve of the season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions on Kapalua.
“I was looking at the summer schedule basically post US-Open all the way through until after the FedEx Cup and potentially I could play 11 out of 13 weeks.
“That's a lot of golf and that's too much for me. I know by that fifth or six week I am going to hate the game and I am going to have to take a break.
“I am trying to play the week before majors, there might be a couple that I mightn't but the week before a couple of the majors especially, it can really benefit you.”
While he was injured in 2015 and missed the Open, he has played the week before a major just three times in 15 major appearances since his double major winning season of 2014.
The Valero Texas Open (pre Masters, April 4-7); AT&T Byron Nelson (pre US PGA, May 9-12), RBC Canadian Open (pre US Open, June 6-9) and Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (pre Open Championship, July 11-14) are his choices this year.
But whatever he decides, the world number eight’s decision to play less in Europe and more in the US is designed to help him make bigger strides up the World Rankings and the FedEx Cup standings.
“I feel like every time I show up on the PGA Tour at the start of the year, other guys have played nearly 10 events and I am sort of playing my first or second one,” he said of his decision to start the year in Hawaii rather than the Middle East.
“I wanted to start a little bit early and get a few more starts under my belt before the big bulk of the season kicks in.”
Playing more in the US also has a more practical side — domestic bliss.
Having purchased the Florida home of former globetrotter Ernie Els, who may believe would have enjoyed even more success had he opted to set up home in the US earlier in his career, McIlroy is embracing the American Dream like never before with home life as big a factor as any professional ambitions.
“I think taking up residence in the US last year, being a permanent resident, I made the decision that this is where my life is going to be,” said McIlroy, who wed his American wife Erica in April 2017. “This is where I am going to live."
He added: “My focus has always been the biggest events in the world since I got into that top 50. But even more so now just because of wanting to travel less and spend more time at home when I can be at home. That's sort of the reason.”
As for his game, he said he was pleased to see an improvement in his wedge play and short range putting last season and is now focussing on improving in the 15 to 20 feet range.
“Most of the reason I won Bay Hill was because of the putting,” he said. “I don't think I have ever come close to having 100 putts for the week in any other win.
“The putting has had its ups and down but for the most part it has been okay. I was pretty good inside eight feet on tour. That was something I was focussing on and did quite well.
“But my 15 to 20 feet range is what I need to work on. My speed wasn't very good from that range.
“I was leaving myself three and four footers coming back a lot, which is partly a mental thing but physically a stroke thing, not hitting it out of the centre of the putter all the time, which means the speed is a little bit inconsistent.
“That's something I have worked on over the off season. Short game, chipping and bunker play I think it was one of my stronger years on tour.”
Having struggled from the tee in key final rounds last year, most recently at the Tour Championship in Atlanta where he failed to exert any pressure on Tiger Woods, he’s taking steps to address his issues.