Refreshed McIlroy defends spot in Final Series finale

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The European Tour has a potentially awkward situation brewing if Rory McIlroy wins the Race to Dubai.

One of Keith Pelley’s first decisions as tour CEO was to grant McIlroy a free pass into the lucrative Final Series when it appeared as though he would not be able to satisfy the tour’s minimum requirement of 13 appearances because of an ankle injury. 

Two months later, McIlroy is still atop the Race to Dubai standings, slightly ahead of Danny Willett, heading into this week’s season-ending Tour Championship in Dubai. 

What has bothered some players, including Willett, is that McIlroy chose to skip last week’s BMW Masters to gear up for the finale. That could give him an edge over those players who are competing in their fourth event in a row.   

“I appreciate that him playing makes a massive difference for the tour and you have kind of let him off with the events, but certainly he has more of an advantage over the guys who have played all three and this will be their fourth,” Willett told reporters Tuesday. “There’s a lot of traveling, a lot of golf, time changes, sleeping patterns, everything like that can really take its toll – especially at the end of a season.”

McIlroy, however, defended his spot in the 60-man field, saying: “If I can win more money in 12 events than someone can win in 23, I don’t see any reason why … I played half the events and won more money. That’s the decision that the European Tour came to, and obviously it’s great for me that I’m able to be here and compete this week.” 

Not even Willett could argue with that point. 

“If Rory wins more money than anyone else playing less events, then that’s just good golf,” he said.

McIlroy has played two of the three Final Series events, finishing sixth in Turkey and 11th at the HSBC Champions. He has a stellar record in Dubai, with six consecutive top-11 finishes, including a victory in 2012.

“I’d gladly take the trophy and they can keep the money and do whatever they want with it,” he said. “It’s more about trying to win the Race to Dubai again.”