European Tour looks to ease burden on players with radical shakeup of membership

Rory McIlroy Sitting

The European Tour is giving serious consideration to a radical shakeup that would result in World Golf Championship (WGC) events and majors being dropped as counting events for membership.

Players would instead have to compete in five standard tournaments, such as national opens, to retain full status on the tour and so be eligible for a Ryder Cup place.

As things stand, professionals must feature 13 times each year to remain as European Tour members and qualify for the biennial contest against the United States. Four WGC events and the same number of majors can count in that figure, which affords a clear benefit to those ranked inside the world’s top 50.

The tour’s recently appointed chief executive, Keith Pelley, has spent a significant part of his first 10 weeks in office in discussions with leading players and other stakeholders about the fairest possible membership scenario. Pelley will announce his plans immediately before the European Tour season concludes at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, later this month.

Three options are understood to be on the table: Pelley could surprisingly decide to retain the status quo; he could simply and marginally reduce the number of counting tournaments; or he could opt for the five-event plan. The final option is regarded as the clear frontrunner but the decision is not set in stone.

Such a shift would have clear benefits. Players who fall outside the top 50 at the start of a season could set their schedule to include five European Tour events without the uncertainty of having to factor in tournaments they may or may not be a part of.

It would presumably be hoped such a policy would appeal to players such as Paul Casey, who, for now, has membership only of the PGA Tour, having cited problems with planning a dual schedule. Casey, ordinarily, would come into the reckoning for a place on Darren Clarke’s team for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in Minnesota next September.

Europe’s top players, who compete in the United States, would have the advantage of the Ryder Cup and Olympic Games forming two of the five counting events in 2016. Even during 2017, they are unlikely to regard five tournaments in Europe as a heavy burden, as it does not represent a material difference to now. A broader wish would be the attraction of European Tour membership to American players such as Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, who have already displayed a willingness to travel.

“We no longer have European Tour players and PGA Tour players,” said Pelley, pointedly, in China last week. “We have global players.”

In Dubai, Pelley will also unveil the latest adjustments to the European Tour’s lucrative Final Series.

Spieth, meanwhile, admitted to shock after a third round of 63 that catapulted him into contention at the WGC-HSBC Champions. He will begin round four just three shots off the lead. The Masters and US Open winner arrived in Shanghai after a fortnight’s break from golf.

“This will be the first and only time I would say this, but I was not expecting to be in this position on Sunday when the week started,” Spieth said. “I came in with very little confidence in my trust of what I am trying to do in my swing.”

At 15 under par, Dustin Johnson is another notable name on a leaderboard that is headed by Kevin Kisner on minus 16. Johnson is seeking his second WGC success of 2015, having triumphed at Doral in March.

Russell Knox, who sits on the same aggregate as Johnson, will return at 7.45am on Sunday to play the 18th hole. The Scot, who is playing in his first WGC tournament, opted not to complete his third round when given the option in poor light.

Rory McIlroy was delighted with the “100%” state of his health on day three, but not so with his putting after signing for a 68. On eight under, realistically McIlroy is playing for a top-five position now. “I gave myself a lot of chances,” said the Northern Irishman. “I didn’t make anything on the greens; that 68 really felt like a 73 or 74.

“I have been struggling on the greens – not just this week, but for the past few weeks. I am going to have to figure out how to turn that around.”

Powered by article was written by Ewan Murray in Shanghai, for The Observer on Saturday 7th November 2015 18.35 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010