Saturday 27 May 2017

McIlroy sets alarm bells ringing for Irish Open

William S Callahan

RORY McILROY has no trouble making tough decisions... as his long-time mentor, friend and former agent Chubby Chandler doubtless will attest.

So, McIlroy's assertion this week that he's still undecided about playing in next summer's Irish Open should set alarm bells ringing for his troubled national championship.

A recent decision by the European Tour to bring the Irish Open forward next year from the August Bank Holiday to the last weekend in June has placed the event in direct conflict with the AT&T National in the United States.

You see, the AT&T returns next summer to Congressional, the scene of McIlroy's sensational US Open victory last June and, as a result, one of his favourite venues on the planet.

Like all of this island's tour players, McIlroy inevitably feels a sense of duty to his native open, which takes place from June 28 to July 1 in 2012.

Yet his professional instincts will draw him to Maryland that week.

Though the European Tour, so far, has published only its schedule up to the US Open at Olympic (in San Francisco from June 14-17), they've already settled on the new date for the Irish Open.

Yet the search for a title sponsor continues after talks with a major international insurance firm failed to live up to their early promise, while Killarney still keenly await confirmation from the Tour that their hopes of hosting the event for a third successive time will be fulfilled.

Being honest, McIlroy's unusually subdued demeanour on the golf course at this year's Irish Open suggested he did not enjoy the event.

In fairness, it came at a difficult time for the 22-year-old as he came to terms with the frustration and disappointment of his poor showing at the British Open in Royal St Georges and struggled to live-up to the sky-high expectations of an excited home crowd.

When the event makes its planned move north of the border to Royal Portrush, he'd likely find it impossible to resist... yet the authorities in Northern Ireland, notably the Tourist Board, will not be ready to commit to staging the Irish Open there until 2013 at the earliest.

Right now, Killarney is by far the leading candidate after two eminently successful and well-supported stagings of the Irish Open in Co Kerry, in partnership with Failte Ireland.

Pressure for change will come only at the behest of a new title sponsor or if the European Tour is seduced by the dubious belief that its prospects of finding a backer will somehow be enhanced by moving the event closer to the capital.

dilemma

As he and Graeme McDowell prepared to tee it up early today in the first round of the World Cup at Mission Hills, McIlroy explained how next June's fixture clash has placed him in a real dilemma.

"I haven't made a decision yet as to where I am going to play that week," he said.

"It's a tough one. I know I need to decide what I am going to do because the people in Ireland want to see me play in the Irish Open and, if I don't play, I know there will be a lot of comment.

"I am very conscious that the Irish Open needs home-grown support. It needs that support to guarantee the future, but, then again, Congressional will always have so many happy memories for me."

McIlroy's had a lot of growing-up to do in the two years since he and McDowell finished tied second, one stroke behind Molinari brothers Edoardo and Francesco at the 2009 World Cup.

In that time, both Ulstermen have become Major champions, a factor which helped establish them as favourites among the 28 nations competing this week.

In battling back from his Sunday meltdown at The Masters to win at Congressional 70 days later, he showed rare mettle as a golfer, while his decision to part from Chandler and his team at International Sports Management in October heavily underscored McIlroy's unflinching resolve off the golf course. He's certainly not afraid of making unpopular decisions.

Meanwhile, Lee Westwood performed an astonishing about-face yesterday as he followed the example of McIlroy in seeking membership of the US PGA Tour in 2012.

Omega Mission Hills World Cup

Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 1, 3.30

Irish Independent

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