After missing the cut at the Masters, Rory McIlroy has now withdrawn from the RBC Heritage field – despite the event’s designated status.
The Northern Irishman shouldered immense pressure once again at Augusta National and carded rounds of 72 and 77 to miss the weekend by some margin.
The way he crashed out was unexpected after coming third at the WGC Match Play and tying for second at Bay Hill.
It is not clear if McIlroy’s early exit in Georgia has anything to do with him pulling out of the latest elevated-purse event on the PGA Tour, but you would be forgiven for thinking they correlate.
Harbour Town is an instantly recognisable venue at Hilton Head Island and recent winners include Jordan Spieth, Stewart Cink, and Webb Simpson.
The South Carolina course will also play host to the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup standings and 41 of the top 50 players in the world. But not McIlroy.
Jon Rahm will arrive at Sea Pines Resort for just the second time in his career after becoming the fourth Spaniard to win the Masters.
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Rahm hasn’t played at the RBC Heritage since the 2019-2020 season and neither have Max Homa, Viktor Hovland, and Xander Schauffele. All players who are ranked in the top 10.
Scottie Scheffler is making his debut at the event and five-time PGA Tour winner Sam Burns is returning for the first time since 2021.
There is a key reason for this.
They were all in the top 20 of the 2022 Player Impact Program too, including Burns who received a payout via amended criteria that came into effect in 2023.
These players are expected, and supposedly required, to play in the RBC Heritage. This is part of the schedule announced by Tour commissioner Jay Monahan at the end of last season.
The most popular and highest-performing players made what was described as an “unprecedented commitment” to playing in 13 designated events to increase the overall appeal and excitement of the Tour.
The RBC Heritage was announced as one of the four additional designated tournaments but is now the second one Rory McIlroy has withdrawn from.
He didn’t play in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, but it was understood top players were allowed to skip one designated event.
McIlroy has been a formidable voice in support of the PGA Tour over the last year – both in his performances and as the organisation fights LIV Golf.
He took his win tally on the circuit to 23 when he won the CJ Cup at the beginning of this season, and he has cemented himself in a new “big three” with Rahm and Scheffler.
Working as a player director on the Tour’s Player Advisory Council, he has also emerged as a leading figure in decision-making which led to a new schedule of no-cut events being devised for 2024.
But has his pivotal role in the PGA Tour’s make-up allowed him to ignore the rulebook he helped to write?
His fellow top-10-ranked players are competing again this week because that was the deal.
This was the strategy to allow spectators and fans at home to enjoy the best playing the best on a regular basis.
In normal circumstances, with no drastic designated event role-out, this would be an unsurprising occurrence as McIlroy has only played the RBC Heritage twice in his career.
Some fans could be disappointed at not seeing the four-time major champion tee it up this week, as they might not now see him until the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
Has his newfound power on the Tour given him an exception to the strict requirements that his peers feel compelled to fulfill?
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