Shane Lowry Ireland's next great hope for Olympic gold after McIlroy drops out of Rio
Shane Lowry is expected to step into the breach and become Ireland's big Olympic medal hope in Rio, after Rory McIlroy decided not to take part in the games due to fears about contracting the Zika virus.
McIlroy pulled out of the Irish team citing concerns over the virus, which has been linked to birth defects in babies.
"I've come to realise that my health and my family's health comes before anything else," he said in a statement.
"Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take."
McIlroy seems to have grown more concerned about the issue since he and his fiancée Erica Stoll were photographed in Zika hotspot Barbados in April.
Doctors say the main concern over the virus is for women who become pregnant. The virus has been linked to microcephaly, whereby the baby is born with an abnormally small head.
Lowry has recently written about his concerns about the Zika virus.
"I desperately want to go to the Olympics for Ireland. I am also a recently married man, and I have to learn a lot more about the virus," he wrote in the 'Irish Times' last month. "Obviously I really want to go, but there is a decision to be made. Can I or can't I go?" he added.
The golfer made no official statement yesterday on what his position is on travelling to the games in August.
But Paul McGinley, leader of the Irish golf team for the Olympics, said yesterday he was counting on Lowry.
"We have a lot of strong players who are representing Ireland. At the moment it's going to be two ladies and two men.
"It's all depending on the qualification (for the men's competition), which finishes in maybe six weeks from now.
"Shane (Lowry) and GMAC (Graeme McDowell) are the next two in at the moment."
He added that Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadows will represent Ireland in the ladies' competition.
He said he was disappointed about McIlroy's decision.
"It's only in the last week to 10 days that he has taken this view. It's obviously disappointing but it is his decision," McGinley told 'Today on Sean O'Rourke' on RTÉ Radio One.
But he said it was not something he could influence. "It's not something that I as team leader can get involved in.
"It's a personal decision and he's made this decision and we move forward with some new players and new representatives for golf in Ireland at the Olympics.
"It's his decision, it's not for me to influence him. This is a health concern that he has. He's discussed it with his family and his wife-to-be and has came to this conclusion. He notified us last night to say that 'this is the decision I've come to...this is what's going to happen'."
Speaking last month, McIlroy claimed that one reason for competing at Rio was because he didn't want to let McGinley down.
He spoke in June 2014 about the decision to represent Ireland in the Olympics, after previously indicating he might represent Team Great Britain.
He said he had considered not putting his name forward at all for selection due to the delicate nature of the decision.
"If I had made that choice, it would have been a very selfish decision," McIlroy said. "It would have been an easy way out for me but I thought about the good of golf," he said.