Rory McIlroy’s decision to withdraw from next week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth is a severe blow to the European Tour’s much heralded Rolex Series.
The tournament, arguably the biggest European Tour event outside the Open Championship, kicks of the Rolex Series, eight tournaments with a minimum prize fund of $7 million. Chief executive Keith Pelley announced the series in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, and would have been hoping to kick the series off in style.
McIlroy’s withdrawal changes that plan.
Pelley can point to a stellar field that includes Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Alex Noren, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters, a resurgent Ian Poulter, as well as hot young English players in Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick and defending champion Chris Wood. However, McIlroy was the event’s biggest draw and his loss is huge.
McIlroy’s absence is particularly disappointing considering some of Europe’s “names” are skipping the event. Masters winner Sergio Garcia continues to shun the tournament. The Spaniard has only entered it twice, 2013 and 2014, in the last 17 years.
Paul Casey is another absentee as he continues his European Tour exile. Garcia’s countryman, Jon Rahm, is the other Spaniard conspicuous by his absence. Fellow countryman Rafa Cabrera-Bello is also skipping the tournament.
Cynics would point out that McIlroy has never been a big fan of the West Course at Wentworth, despite winning the title in 2014. That victory came out of the blue since he’d missed two straight cuts. He also missed the cut in 2015 and skipped the tournament last year.
The cynics might say that if Rory was going to choose any tournament to skip then the BMW PGA Championship would have been a no-brainer given his record. The cynics might be wide of the mark. Earlier this year McIlroy said:
“I’m excited to get back to Wentworth and hopefully I can emulate some of the golf I played in 2014. I know there have been a few changes to the golf course and I’m excited to see those.”
Rory’s good friend, Paul McGinley, had a hand in yet another re-design of the West course, and you have to think Rory would have wanted to play the new layout as a result.
Substantial course changes to the West Course over the years have not endeared players to the original Harry Colt layout. Wentworth resident Ernie Els has had several attempts at course changes. His company, Ernie Els Design, had a hand in the recent alterations along with McGinley, Thomas Bjorn and former European Tour player David Jones.
All 18 greens have been re-turfed after perennial complaints. A sub air system has been installed. Four greens were completely rebuilt, while five were partially rebuilt. All bunkers, considered far too penal, have been improved.
The multi-million pound revamp fitted in nicely with the first event of the Rolex Series. The tournament was already well-presented, but the Tour has upped the ante this year to kick off the series.
So McIlroy’s withdrawal is the last thing Pelley wanted. The European Tour chief executive is hoping the series will help ensure established stars like McIlroy continue to play in Europe, as well as keep younger players from jumping to the PGA Tour.
McIlroy has already said he won’t play in all eight Rolex events, so for him to miss the opener is a massive downer to Pelley’s dream of growing the series to 10 by 2018.