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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland urges his putt closer to the pin at the fourth hole during the first round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia September 20, 2012. (DAVID TULIS/REUTERS)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland urges his putt closer to the pin at the fourth hole during the first round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia September 20, 2012. (DAVID TULIS/REUTERS)

Rubenstein: McIlroy aims for top of two money heaps Add to ...

Luke Donald won the money list on the PGA Tour and the European Tour last year, and Rory McIlroy, who will start the BMW Masters in Shanghai, China, on Thursday, wants to do the same this year.

He’s leading the money list on both tours. Winning each would be a significant accomplishment, but maybe not as impressive after one examines the tours’ schedules more closely.

So many tournaments count toward both the PGA and European tours that it’s not difficult for elite players to make up the numbers required to retain membership in each of them. A player must enter 15 PGA Tour events to maintain membership there, and 13 for the European Tour.

The four majors and four World Golf Championships tournaments count toward each tour. McIlroy, the world No. 1, is eligible for all eight. So are Donald, Tiger Woods and most top players.

McIlroy must play just seven more PGA Tour events and five European Tour events beyond those core eight to maintain dual membership. That’s a total of 20 tournaments a year, hardly a strenuous schedule even with global travel.

The BMW Masters, which McIlroy won last year, should help him in his quest. It’s an official European Tour event now, but wasn’t last year. It’s the first of six tournaments remaining on the European Tour’s 2012 calendar, and McIlroy said that he would play four of them. He’s playing in the HSBC Champions in Shenzhen, China, next week.

McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship winner, placed second on the 2009 and 2011 European Tour’s money list. It’s called the Race to Dubai for the last tournament on the European Tour, from Nov. 22 through 25. The purse there is $8-million (U.S.). The purse this week is $7-million, with $1.16-million going to the winner.

“I have finished second in Europe’s Race to Dubai two of the last three years, so it would be good to knock that off and try and do what Luke did last year and win the money list on both tours,” McIlroy said in Shanghai.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press has reported the European Tour is expected to soon announce that participation in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, and the Seve Trophy – all biennial team events – will count toward its 13-tournament requirement for membership. This will make it even easier for top players to meet the minimum requirements for membership. Woods said recently he would consider joining the European Tour if the change is made.

None of this means the game at the highest levels is heading toward a unified tour. If anything, it highlights the developing clashes between them.

For example, the PGA of America (as distinguished from the PGA Tour) conducted its Grand Slam of Golf this week in Bermuda. The 36-hole event for this year’s major champions was won Wednesday by Padraig Harrington.

But Bubba Watson, the Masters winner, and Webb Simpson, the U.S. Open champion, were the only current major champions playing. McIlroy was in China, and Ernie Els, the Open Championship winner, withdrew because of an ankle injury. (Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA winner, replaced McIlroy, while Harrington, the third alternate, subbed in for Els.)

As the global schedule gets crowded with more lucrative tournaments, turf wars between the PGA and European tours are inevitable and will intensify.

The PGA Tour does have a protection, albeit limited, in place.

A player who wants to enter a European Tour event opposite a PGA Tour stop has to request a release. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem isn’t likely to deny releases to its marquee players because he wouldn’t want to alienate them. In some cases, a player might be compelled to add a PGA Tour event in exchange for playing on the European Tour.

Amid all of this, is McIlroy, trying to accomplish what Donald did last year. He’s the favourite in Shanghai and he’ll be the favourite next week in Shenzhen.

Good for him if he does win the money list on the PGA and European tours. But because so many tournaments count for each money list, his achievement would be diminished.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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