Rory McIlroy giving up European Tour membership in 2019

Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari

"Of the 12 players that represented Europe in the Ryder Cup this year, Rory is the only one who is going to do that and the others have all signed up to play the minimum of four events outside of the majors and WGCs".

"I think this is obviously even more special, being the last event of the season".

Leeds' Daniel Gavins carded a two-under-par 69 to maintain his position at the top of the leaderboard as the 156-player field was reduced to 77 following the fourth round of European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage.

A rule passed by the European Tour, and enacted for the 2018 season, says that a player can not be a European Ryder Cup team captain or vice captain if they "fail to fulfill their minimum event obligation in any season". The event takes place at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai with Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm making up a strong field.

The Northern Irishman is searching for answers following a disappointing season and, in the year when he will turn 30, believes his career is best served by concentrating almost all his energies on playing on the PGA Tour in America. Wentworth is going to be in September, the Italian Open and a lot of the big events are going to be post the PGA Tour season so they are not going up against the American season, so they are going to be biggest events and strongest events in the world that week which is a good thing.

Still, there is time once the PGA Tour season ends in August if McIlroy so chooses, including the South African event he played last week and the Dubai tournament in July. Currently, the world No. 7 is slated to play only two - the European Masters in Switzerland, and perhaps the Scottish Open instead of the Irish Open - and then will reevaluate his schedule in late August, after the PGA Tour's FedExCup playoffs. "I am starting my year off in the States and that will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August and then we will assess from there". Just over a month later he made history by becoming the first Italian to win a Major, at The Open Championship at Carnoustie, before playing a starring role on Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team, winning five points out of five. You know you're going out there with the sort of the person that you're closest with on Tour, trying to win the biggest prize that we play for.

Using the example of Lee Westwood's impressive win at the Nedbank Championship last weekend, Willett said golfers are always waiting for the days when their game magically clicks together.

"It is a big shift but I think it's good for a lot of reasons", McIlroy added.

Meanwhile, Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari strengthened his grip on the title with an opening round of 68, the Open champion aided by a flawless front nine which included birdies on the first, fifth and seventh. "It's just a matter of doing it when I need to do it most".

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