Tait’s take: Rory McIlroy may be correct on easier European Tour courses

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Tait’s take: Rory McIlroy may be correct on easier European Tour courses

Euro Tour

Tait’s take: Rory McIlroy may be correct on easier European Tour courses

By

Rory McIlroy may have apologized to the European Tour for slamming course setups in last week’s $5 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, but he may have a point.

McIlroy initially criticized the Tour when his 15-under 273 over Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and the Old Course saw him finish T-26. He singled out Carnoustie, saying it wasn’t as tough as when he won the silver medal as low amateur in the 2007 Open Championship.

Rory picked a bad week to complain.

The Alfred Dunhill is a pro-am. Rounds are already exceedingly slow. Imagine how much slower they’d be if amateurs had to slog their way around three brutally hard links.

However, facts tend to bear out McIlroy’s general complaint.

Although there are still tournaments left to play on this year’s European schedule, average winning totals are two shots easier than Rory’s first full European Tour season of 2008. The average winning total 11 years ago was 272. It’s 270 this year. Ditto for shots under par. Sixteen under is the average winning tally, while it was 14 under in 2008.

Rory was right to feel miffed at finishing T-26 for 15 under in the Alfred Dunhill. He’d have finished higher with that score every year going back to 2008. In fact, 15 under would have won in 2008, and earned him a playoff last year. It would have put him in the top 10, including five top fives, every year except 2013 when he would have placed T-24.

It’s the second time this season Rory has left a Scottish tournament feeling short-changed. He wasn’t pleased after the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open. He shot 13 under for T-34, and aired his complaints then.

He was right to speak his mind. The Renaissance Club was woefully inadequate as preparation for the Open Championship the following week.

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 6th hole during the final round of the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at The Old Course in St Andrews. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Thirteen under in Scottish Opens since 2008 would have resulted in two wins (2010 and 2015) and a playoff for the 2008 and 2017 titles. It would have meant top-10s every year except 2012, when he’d have placed T-11.

The difference between the Scottish Open and the Alfred Dunhill is that the former has been staged on seven different courses since 2008, whereas the latter has been held on the same trio of Fife courses. It’s harder to compare apples with pears, oranges, lemons, etc.

Rory has played two other “regular” tournaments on this year’s European Tour: the Omega European Masters and BMW PGA Championship. His 14-under effort in the European Masters earned him a playoff spot, which Sebastien Soderberg won. That 14-under tally has returned fairly consistent placings since 2008, all top-eight finishes.

Rory might have a similar easier course complaint with the BMW PGA Championship. He finished 11 under over Wentworth’s West Course last month to place T-9. That score would have won him the title on four occasions since 2008 (2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016) to add to his 2014 victory. He’d also have been in two playoffs (2008 and 2017) and his worst finish would have matched this season’s T-9.

Of course, there’s a flip side to this story: are European Tour courses getting easier, or are players getting better?

Rory is clearly a better player than he was in 2008. He’s longer off the tee. He averaged 295.28 yards per drive in the 2008 European Tour season. He’s over 18 yards longer this season at 313.87 yards. That’s close to two clubs shorter into most greens.

However, everyone seems to be longer now. Only nine players averaged over 300 yards per drive in 2008. There are 45 this year.

So, is it a question of easier courses, or an easier game for elite players because of increased distance which the Euro Tour has no control over? Hmm, now where have we heard that question before?

Latest

More Golfweek
Home