Wednesday 13 December 2017

McIlroy ready to repay Els for his Irish Open favour in South Africa

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Sam Greenwood/GETTY IMAGES
Rory McIlroy. Picture: Sam Greenwood/GETTY IMAGES
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy no longer needs favours from fellow golfing superstars to enhance the quality of the field for the Irish Open.

Yesterday's announcement that the European Tour will include the 2017 event, to be played from July 6-9 at Portstewart, on their new Rolex Series roster is a real game-changer for the venerable tournament.

Take a bow, Rory McIlroy.

Without him, the Irish Open would be languishing way down the pecking order in terms of attracting the best in the game.

Instead, after just two stagings under the Dubai Duty Free/Rory Foundation banner, the island of Ireland will occupy a prime slot at the peak of the golfing season next summer.

It all started when McIlroy used his fame and his golfing reputation to combine with Dubai Duty Free via his Rory Foundation to breathe new life into the Irish Open in 2015.

Royal County Down was asked to host the tournament at relatively short notice; a €2m prize fund was announced; and McIlroy used his personal contacts to persuade top stars such as Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els, and Sergio Garcia to come and tee it up in his native Northern Ireland.


There was a price - each of his special invitees required a McIlroy appearance in their own charitable tournaments, but they were happy to oblige the four-time major champion.

Yesterday the Belfast native smiled as he spoke about the inclusion of the South African Open in January on his schedule, calling it: "My last IOU from the 2015 Irish Open."

McIlroy opted to let the tournament, and the increased prize money of €4m, stand on its own merits at the K Club last May.

It did all that and more as his victory ensured worldwide publicity for the event.

The lean years - when no title sponsor took ownership and prize funds dipped to €1.5m - are now just a memory, it would seem.

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