Monday 19 August 2019

Mount Juliet in the frame as next year's Irish Open set for September date

Rory McIlroy, who led the third-round, congratulates Brooks Koepka after the American’s St Jude Classic victory on Sunday. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy, who led the third-round, congratulates Brooks Koepka after the American’s St Jude Classic victory on Sunday. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

Brian Keogh

Shane Lowry may yet get his wish to see the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open moved to September after the PGA Tour yesterday moved the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational to July 2-5 next season.

Lowry skipped last week's WGC in Memphis event to celebrate his Open Championship victory and with the calendar even more compressed next year as a result of the Olympic Games (July 27-August 2) and Ryder Cup (September 25-27), the $10.25 million event at TPC Southwind will now take place two weeks before The Open.

That puts it on a collision course with the $7 million Irish Open, which has been played on that date for the last three years.

The European Tour could move the Irish Open or refuse to sanction the WGC, just as they did when the WGC Bridgestone Invitational clashed with the Open de France in 2016.

However in a statement, Chief Executive of the European Tour Keith Pelley merely said: "We have had discussions with the PGA Tour in recent months about the challenges presented by the global golfing calendar in 2020. We are currently finalising our full European Tour schedule for 2020 which we will announce in due course."

Lowry believes it would be unfair to sponsors Dubai Duty Free for the European Tour to stick with the July date in the event of a clash.

"There is a great chance to move it the week before Wentworth - two great tournaments two weeks in a row," Lowry said at Lahinch.

"September in Ireland tends to be okay as well, so I think Dubai Duty Free should put pressure on the Tour to give them the date they want.

Venue

"There are very few really big tournaments on the European Tour, and this is one of them, and I think they should be looked after as well as they can."

No venue or host player has been chosen for 2020 but Mount Juliet, which staged the WGC-American Express Championship in 2002 and 2004 and the Irish Open from 1993-95, has received a visit from the Tour and the sponsor.

Championship director for the Irish Open Simon Alliss and senior vice president of marketing for Dubai Duty Free Sinead El Sibai toured Mount Juliet the Monday after Jon Rahm's win at Lahinch.

"The links have been there for the last few years, but it could just as easily be parkland," Dubai Duty Free's executive vice chairman and CEO, Colm McLoughlin said in Co Clare, adding that a links venue was not "cast in stone".

Rory McIlroy missed Lahinch to play in Scotland before The Open and then play in Memphis. But he left the home of Elvis Presley singing the blues on Sunday after a disappointing final round. Leading by a shot overnight from Brooks Koepka thanks to a stunning third round 62, he made just one putt outside five feet in a one-over 71 to finish tied fourth, five shots behind the world No 1.

McIlroy, who is second to Koepka in the race for the FedExCup, will reappear alongside Lowry for the first play-off event next week, the Northern Trust at Liberty National.

The Holywood star will also tee it up in September's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the European Tour confirmed yesterday.

Meanwhile, Seamus Power and Pádraig Harrington are in action in the final counting Wyndham Championship in Greensboro this week.

The West Waterford man is ranked 143rd in the FedExCup standings and likely needs a top-10 finish to make the top 125 who keep full playing privileges and qualify for the play-offs.

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