THE European Tour has rubber-stamped a date change for the Irish Open which makes it easier for Rory McIlroy and fellow Major champion Graeme McDowell to tee it up in their home event next June.
A proposal to move the Irish event forward seven days on the schedule – to the week immediately after the US Open at Pinehurst – was passed at a meeting of Europe's Tournament Players Committee in Vilamoura.
The meeting also discussed the introduction of a new rule requiring the Tour's top players to commit each year to playing in the primary event in their home country and one other event on European soil.
McIlroy has long stated his commitment to the Irish Open, but moving it into the June 19-22 slot on the rota falls nicely into the Holywood star's plans, including his and McDowell's commitment to play in next year's Scottish Open a fortnight later on the classic links at Royal Aberdeen.
This switch also fulfils the desire of Munich's BMW International Open to move a week further away from the US Open. The run-up to next year's British Open at Hoylake now reads: The Irish Open, BMW International, French Open and Scottish Open.
The venue for next year's Irish showpiece, which now takes place in the same week as the British Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush, has yet to be discussed by the Tour, though Carton House is the favourite.
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, a member of the 15-man Tournament Players Committee, welcomed European efforts to persuade their big-name players, the vast majority of whom are full members of America's PGA Tour, to make time for 'home tour' events. Ten of Europe's 12 Ryder Cup heroes at Medinah are US Tour regulars yet their support is critical, McGinley says, if the European circuit is to attract tournament sponsors and ride out the current recession
"What would the Irish Open be without Rory McIlroy?" the Dubliner asked. "It is a success every year because Rory plays and it was a success when Padraig Harrington played when he was the top Irish player." Still, McGinley is against putting a gun to heads. Instead, he suggested: "there'd be some kind of a negotiation which would lead to individuals committing to some other events on the European schedule.
Conceding that it was "tough" for the stars of world golf to find room in their schedule, McGinley went on: "I certainly wouldn't put pressure on the top guys to say you have to do this or come back and do that. That's not right. This is just a commitment to their home event and that's not a lot to ask. Rory's committed for the Irish Open, there's no issue about that and they all play Wentworth.
McGinley, who carded a level-par 71 in yesterday' first round of the Portugal Masters, was given a few minutes to talk with reporters before being whisked away for a random drugs test.
Ireland's Simon Thornton was one of seven players who took full advantage of a sun-kissed day on the Oceanico Victoria Course to claim a share of the lead on six-under with a fabulous opening 65. Though his own playing credentials for next year are safe after his maiden Tour victory at St Omer in June, Thornton's seven visits to Q-School in eight years made it easy to understand the intense pressure on Peter Lawrie as he fights to save his Tour card.
The tension showed as Dubliner Lawrie, needing just to make the cut in Portugal and at the Perth Master next week to hang onto his credentials after 11 stress-free years on Tour, opened with a nightmare 77, which a triple-bogey seven at 14, his fifth.
Defending champion Shane Lowry shared 57th after his first-round 70.
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