• Alistair Tait

Rory Takes The Road Less Travelled

Updated: 15 hours ago


You won’t get many golf fans unhappy at Rory McIlroy ending the season as European number one, winning the Harry Vardon Trophy for a fourth time. However, Rory’s never had to work less to climb to the top of the European tree. He did it in just 10 tournaments out of the 43 on this year’s European Tour schedule, a participation rate of just 23.26% compared to 25% when he topped the 2015 Race to Dubai, 28.75% in 2014 and 33.33% for his 2012 achievement.


The way things are going, Rory will probably win next year’s money list with a single digit tally of DP World Tour appearances. Talk about taking the road less travelled? As the table below shows, his participation rate isn't the lowest for a European number one. Justin Rose takes that honour: he played in just 23.08% of scheduled tournaments when he was crowned 2007 European Tour number one.


Collin Morikawa also made 10 European Tour appearances last year when he won the Harry Vardon Trophy. He was so enamoured by the achievement that he made hardly any effort to defend his title. Been there, done that. He played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai earlier this year, no doubt for large appearance fees. His only other “regular” European Tour appearance outside the majors and WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play came in the Scottish Open, which is now co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour. The 2021 Champion Golfer of the Year is listed as making just eight appearances on this year's DP World Tour schedule.


As I wrote last year,

“...current membership rules that allow players to be part-time competitors and walk off with a trophy bearing the name of Harry Vardon feels like one great golf con job.

No blame directed at Morikawa or Rory. They played by the rules. However, today’s part-timers are put into perspective when you consider there was a time when European number ones would play over half the tournaments on the schedule. Tommy Fleetwood was the last European number one to do that. His 2017 Race to Dubai victory was based on results from 24 events on the 47-tournament schedule, or a 51.06% participation rate by maths. As you can see, that's the exception to the modern rule.


Here are the numbers for all Harry Vardon Trophy winners going back to 1975, the first year money earned decided the European number one spot, with figures taken from the European Tour website:


Year Player Played Maximum % participation

2022 Rory McIlroy 10 43 23.26%

2021 Collin Morikawa 10 40 25.00%

2020 Lee Westwood 15 38 39.47%

2019 Jon Rahm 13 46 28.26%

2018 Francesco Molinari 12 47 25.53%

2017 Tommy Fleetwood 24 47 51.06%

2016 Henrik Stenson 14 48 29.17%

2015 Rory McIlroy 12 48 25.00%

2014 Rory McIlroy 14 49 28.57%

2013 Henrik Stenson 17 45 37.78%

2012 Rory McIlroy 15 45 33.33%

2011 Luke Donald 13 52 25.00%

2010 Martin Kaymer 22 48 45.83%

2009 Lee Westwood 26 51 50.98%

2008 Robert Karlsson 23 50 46.00%

2007 Justin Rose 12 52 23.08%

2006 Padraig Harrington 20 47 42.55%

2005 Colin Montgomerie 25 47 53.19%

2004 Ernie Els 15 45 33.33%

2003 Ernie Els 16 45 35.56%

2002 Retief Goosen 22 44 50.00%

2001 Retief Goosen 22 45 48.89%

2000 Lee Westwood 23 44 52.27%

1999 Colin Montgomerie 21 42 50.00%

1998 Colin Montgomerie 20 35 57.14%

1997 Colin Montgomerie 22 37 59.46%

1996 Colin Montgomerie 21 40 52.50%

1995 Colin Montgomerie 23 38 60.53%

1994 Colin Montgomerie 24 40 60.00%

1993 Colin Montgomerie 27 41 65.85%

1992 Nick Faldo 18 41 43.90%

1991 Seve Ballesteros 18 37 48.65%

1990 Ian Woosnam 20 40 50.00%

1989 Ronan Rafferty 25 38 65.79%

1988 Seve Ballesteros 17 33 51.52%

1987 Ian Woosnam 22 30 73.33%

1986 Seve Ballesteros 17 29 58.62%

1985 Sandy Lyle 17 29 58.62%

1984 Bernhard Langer 19 29 65.52%

1983 Nick Faldo 18 30 60.00%

1982 Greg Norman 15 29 51.72%

1981 Bernhard Langer 17 25 68.00%

1980 Sandy Lyle 18 26 69.23%

1979 Sandy Lyle 17 26 65.38%

1978 Seve Ballesteros 16 24 66.67%

1977 Seve Ballesteros 15 25 60.00%

1976 Seve Ballesteros 14 24 58.33%

1975 Dale Hayes 15 22 68.18%


Look at those numbers for Ian Woosnam when he won the 1987 Harry Vardon Trophy: played 22 of 30 tournaments, a 73.33% participation rate.


Ah, those were the days.


#JustSaying: “Moderation is essential in all things, Madam, but never in my life have I failed to beat a teatotaller.” Harry Vardon


Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour

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