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Well-traveled Rory McIlroy making most of California trip

Rory McIlroy opened his 2015-16 PGA Tour season with a 4-under-par 68 at the Frys.com Open. Steve Dykes/Getty Images

NAPA, Calif. -- A private airplane helps, but even those fortunate enough to travel in that manner have their moments. It's inevitable in professional golf, especially for those players who crisscross the globe playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour.

At age 26, Rory McIlroy has been doing this for nearly nine years now, and he hardly looked like he had gotten off a 12-hour flight from the U.K. on Tuesday after just having gone home to Europe nine days prior.

But undoubtedly, such travel takes its toll, and McIlroy was somewhat mortified to learn recently just how much time he spends away from his homes in Northern Ireland and Florida.

As part of an endorsement deal he has with Santander, the company tracked various aspects of McIlroy's life and informed him that in the past 12 months he had spent "a fortnight'' of time on an airplane, having visited 118 different airports, with 287 hotel nights.

It made McIlroy take notice.

"I felt when looking at it, I definitely felt like it put me at a disadvantage that a lot of the other guys don't have to travel that much,'' said McIlroy, who shot 4-under-par 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Frys.com Open and is tied for 13th. "Like even here. OK, there are guys [four] coming from Korea from the Presidents Cup so I shouldn't be complaining, but the 12-hour flight to get here landed [Tuesday] at 3 p.m. You struggle with jet leg a little bit.

"But that's the sort of travel that you have to do to be a worldwide player. You have to be out of your own bed 270 nights a year. You have to fly over two weeks of the year. It's crazy numbers.''

That's why if you could give McIlroy truth serum, he would acknowledge that he'd rather be anywhere than the wine country of Napa Valley this week. Oh sure, he said all the right things about the golf course, acknowledged that he loves California and he had success just down the road earlier this year at the WGC Match Play Championship.

And he cracked wise. "Honestly, I didn't know anything about the golf course. Expected vineyards, wine, good food. Got all those boxes ticked [Tuesday] night, so ..."

McIlroy is here only because he made a deal with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem in 2012 when he and seven other players -- the so-called Turkey 8 -- signed up for a big-money, nonsanctioned exhibition in Turkey.

The event was the same week as the Frys tournament, and because the Turkey event wasn't an official tournament, Finchem extracted a commitment from all eight that they would play in the Frys tournament once during the next three years.

Time was up for McIlroy, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson and Charl Schwartzel this year, hence their appearance in the first official event of the 2015-16 season.

McIlroy would have much rather stayed in Europe, where he watched the Irish rugby team compete in the Rugby World Cup in London last weekend. Or where he might have relaxed a bit to ready himself for three more big tournaments on his schedule, for which the travel doesn't promise to get any easier.

Later this month, McIlroy travels back across the Atlantic for the Turkish Airlines Open. The following week is the second event of the European Tour's Final Series on the Race to Dubai, the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. The bonus there is that the tournament is also on the PGA Tour schedule, and will count as his second event of this season -- while it's his second-to-last event of the European Tour season. Got it?

Then after a week off -- he's skipping another Final Series event in Shanghai, the BMW Masters -- he plays the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, a smooth 12-hour time difference from here.

"I definitely see a day where those numbers are going to drop,'' McIlroy said. "No way I could sustain that for the rest of my career. Whenever that day is, I'm not sure, but for now that's the life I live. I'm enjoying it, and I'll do it for a while.''

In interviews with European media two weeks ago, McIlroy acknowledged that for a time he thought of quitting the European Tour. That would be a tough blow for his home circuit, and seems unlikely in the short term as his foundation is set to host the Irish Open for at least the next three years.

Then there is the matter of the Ryder Cup, for which McIlroy must be a member of the European Tour in order to compete. Can you imagine the world's third-best player not eligible?

As far-fetched as it sounds, the issue came up recently because England's Paul Casey -- now ranked 23rd in the world after a strong season on the PGA Tour -- is unlikely to take up European Tour membership in 2016, meaning he'd skip the Ryder Cup. It's a tough decision, but Casey has grown weary of the demands associated with playing both tours.

The rewards can be great, but the toll it takes understandably makes you think, especially when the golf season never truly ends and yet sponsors put up big money for events and expect the stars to play.

After playing both tours for the past three years, England's Lee Westwood has decided to give up his PGA Tour membership in 2016. Germany's Martin Kaymer, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, also won't be a member this season because he failed to play the required 15-tournament minimum. He didn't seem all that bothered by it.

"Looking at next season's schedule, especially with the Olympics and the Ryder Cup [in 2016], I can cope with the situation,'' Kaymer said.

McIlroy knows that nobody is going to feel sorry for him. It's golf, after all. He's playing for a ton of money. It's not exactly a bad deal spending time playing golf in Northern California this time of year. And the other places he will visit later this year will afford more opportunities.

And yet, to remain one of the best in the world, to win tournaments and compete for majors, requires facing the age-old questions about how much to play, how much to take advantage of endorsement opportunities, how to live a life, too.

"For me, it was finding the time to do what I need to do to keep me at the level of winning majors and all the other commitments and things that go with being high-profile and one of the best in the world and different demands,'' McIlroy said. "It's carving out the time to keep on top of your game, to do the things you need to do to stay where I am. It's time management.''

With that, McIlroy joked about the interview session lasting longer than he had hoped. In addition to tracking his travel and fitness for the year, Santander also noted that McIlroy had signed more than 6,300 autographs in the past 12 months and done 210 interviews.

Both those numbers are rising a bit more this week as well.