Rory McIlroy took off the final three months of the year to heal his body and clear his mind, and he appears eager to get back to work.
With a series of announcements over the last week, McIlroy revealed what likely will be his most ambitious schedule ahead of Augusta National in the 10 years he has been eligible for the Masters.
The most McIlroy has ever played before the Masters was seven tournaments — in 2009, the first year he was eligible for all four majors, and in 2016.
McIlroy, coming off his first winless year since 2008, will start the new season with two tournaments in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) before he embarks on a busy PGA Tour schedule. He is playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the first time, followed by the Genesis Open at Riviera and a third straight week at the Honda Classic, not far from where he lives.
Most peculiar about McIlroy’s schedule is that he is skipping the World Golf Championship in Mexico City and instead will play the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook for the first time, and then play the following week at Bay Hill. He only listed his schedule through Bay Hill.
That’s two tournaments he has never played, and three courses (two at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am) that he will have to learn. It also gives him seven tournaments, and it could be eight events if McIlroy enters the Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas.
If he plays the Match Play, it would be three straight events, a week off, another three-week stretch of events, a week off, and then the Masters.
Meanwhile, The Guardian is reporting that McIlroy’s best mate, Harry Diamond, will remain as his caddie. McIlroy split with J.P. Fitzgerald after the British Open, and Diamond worked for him the rest of the year.
LAST CHANCE: Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world to play in the Indonesian Masters. He hopes it can lead to an invitation to that other Masters.
Snedeker is No. 51 in the world, and this is the last tournament available for him to play. The top 50 at the end of the year earn a spot in the field at Augusta National. Snedeker, who missed five months with a sternum injury, will have plenty of competition beyond Justin Rose.
Four other players have hopes to get into the top 50 — Satoshi Kodaira (No. 50), Dylan Frittelli (No. 55), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (No. 56) and Yusaku Miyazato (No. 58).
The Indonesian Masters may not be the last chance for everyone.
Kiradech last week won the Thongchai Jaidee Invitational on the Asian Development Tour, which offers minimal ranking points. That victory, however, makes him eligible for the final ADT event in Thailand called the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship. Depending on how he fares in Jakarta, if Kiradech wins in Thailand, he might get enough points to crack the top 50.
For those who don’t make it, Augusta National also takes the top 50 in the world from the March 25 ranking two weeks before the Masters.
GARCIA AWARDS: A green jacket, a bride, a baby on the way and now the awards are starting to cap off a memorable year for Sergio Garcia.
The Masters champion was selected as the European Tour golfer of the year, the first time he was won the award. Garcia won three times this year, including the Dubai Desert Classic and the Andalucia Masters, to go along with his first major championship at Augusta National.
The award was decided by a panel consisting of golf media.
“This is an amazing honor,” Garcia said. “I think both on and off the golf course, it has been a unique and unbelievable year, and one that I will definitely remember my whole life.”
The British-based Association of Golf Writers also honored Garcia with its Golf Writers Trophy. It’s the second time Garcia won the AGW award. He also won in 1999 when the 19-year-old was runner-up to Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship, won two European Tour events and went 3-1-1 in the Ryder Cup.
“To be voted the award for a second time, it is extremely exciting and hopefully I will be able to win it again,” Garcia said. “We know that both the golfers and the media go hand-in-hand in this business, and we always appreciate when they recognize you for something as big as this.”
DRUG SUSPENSION: Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year under the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy for failing to provide a sample.
He becomes the fourth PGA Tour member to be suspended since the policy took effect in 2008.
Under the policy, the tour does not release where Hensby was playing when his name was selected for drug testing. Hensby, who has not had full PGA Tour status since 2008, is a past champion. He missed the cut in nine of the 14 events on the Web.com Tour this year. He played twice on the PGA Tour, missing the cut at the Barbasol Championship and getting disqualified at the Sanderson Farms Championship in late October, the last event he played.
The 46-year-old Australian won the John Deere Classic in 2004 and played in the Presidents Cup the following year.
GO LOW: For the second time this decade, the PGA Tour had two players break 60 in the same year. Paul Goydos (John Deere Classic) and Stuart Appleby (Greenbrier Classic) did it in 2010, while Justin Thomas (Sony Open) and Adam Hadwin (CareerBuilder Challenge) did it this year.
Perhaps a better example of how scoring is getting lower is not an individual round but rather all four of them.
There were 120 players who posted all four rounds in the 60s in 2017 without winning, and 23 players did it more than once.
Eight players had all four rounds in the 60s without winning at three tournaments — Webb Simpson, Sean O’Hair, Ollie Schniederjans, Richy Werenski, Brian Harman, Tony Finau, Brian Gay and Charley Hoffman.
DIVOTS: Justin Rose will be host of the British Masters next year, and he has selected Walton Heath as the venue for the Oct. 11-14 event. … Shubhankar Sharma, Erik van Rooyen and Shaun Norris each earned a spot in the British Open next year as the top finishers in the Joburg Open. … The LPGA Tour stop in Singapore has changed its name next year to HSBC Women’s World Championship. It used to be the HSBC Women’s Champions. Inbee Park is the defending champion for the March 1-4 tournament. … The R&A has created a new amateur championship for junior girls. The inaugural Girls Under-16s Open Championship will be held at Fulford on April 27-29.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Justin Rose won the HSBC Champions and earned $1,660,000. He is playing the Indonesian Masters, with total prize money of $750,000.
FINAL WORD: “I hope he manages his expectations more than everybody else’s expectations, like he’s going to come back and be Tiger of past. I think he still has a little bit of time on his side, but not a whole lot.” — Greg Norman on Tiger Woods.