Rory’s Christmas gift for Irish Open
RORY McILROY gave the ailing Irish Open a mega-boost yesterday by confirming he'll definitely play in the event next June.
This is particularly good news for hard-pressed European Tour officials as their search for a title sponsor for the Irish Open stretches into 15 months.
McIlroy has become the biggest draw in professional golf since his record-shattering victory in last summer's US Open at Congressional and he might well achieve his stated ambition and leapfrog current World No 1 Luke Donald to the top of the heap in the first half of 2012.
So, his absence would have left the Irish Open with about as much appeal as a Harry Potter movie without magic and would've made as much sense as Titanic without the iceberg.
The Irish Open's new slot on the European Tour schedule (June 28-July 1) places it on the same weekend as the PGA Tour's AT&T National, which returns in 2012 to Congressional, a venue which would have obvious appeal to the 22-year-old Ulsterman.
Yet he made plain yesterday his sense of duty to his national open when he said: "There has been a lot of speculation on whether or not I'll play the Irish Open next year, so I am happy to announce I'll definitely play the tournament in 2012.
"For me, the Irish Open has always been, and will continue to be, one of the most important events on the global golf calendar and it's obviously a title I'd love to win at some stage in my career."
McIlroy is especially aware of the importance of putting his shoulder to the wheel during such difficult times in Ireland and the role a successful Irish Open will play in boosting tourism, morale and the local economy.
"With Irish golf on such a high in recent years, it is important that we put on a good show not only for the home fans, but also for the global audience who will be watching on TV," he said. "A lot has been made of me joining the PGA Tour again next year, but in reality, it's not a drastic change to the schedule I have played in recent seasons.
"Taking my PGA Tour card again does not mean that I'm going to neglect my European Tour status. I'll continue to play a similar schedule of events in Europe and will obviously fulfil my commitment to the European Tour."
Killarney Golf and Fishing Club are keen to host the Irish Open for the third successive year on their Killeen Course. Satisfied with recent discussions with the Tour and their partners in the event, Failte Ireland, they await the green light.
According to a Tour source, a decision on the venue will be announced shortly. Confirming the event will not move north of the border, probably to Royal Portrush, until 2013 at the earliest, he said there had been talks with a couple of other interested parties in the Republic.
Incidentally, he scotched any suggestion that the Irish Open, which takes place three weeks before the 2012 Open Championship at Lytham, might be played on a links next year.
The current plight of the Euro may have potentially devastating consequences for the world economy, but the current state of the currency markets has boosted McIlroy's prospects of catching runaway leader Luke Donald in the Race to Dubai. The prize fund for this week's Hong Kong Open and next week's season-ending Dubai World Championship is made up in US dollars, with the conversion rate into Euro, the Tour's official currency, struck at the start of tournament week.
The money at Fanling converted from $2.5m to €2.065m and with €341,723 on offer to the winner and €227,813 for second, McIlroy needs only a top-two finish on Sunday to keep alive his hopes of overtaking Donald in Dubai.
While the $7.5m on offer in Dubai is the same as last year, as the Euro weakens against the Dollar that purse currently is €126,000 'bigger' than in 2010, with the first prize likely to 'grow' from €910,000 to €950,000-plus.
McIlroy currently trails Donald by €1.131m in third in the Race to Dubai. Second-placed Martin Kaymer gave up his chance of catching the Englishman by opting not to play Hong Kong and instead going to the $5m Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
The folly of staging a regular European Tour event so deep into what Ernie Els once euphemistically described as 'wheelbarrow season' for the world's top pros is heavily underscored by the failure of so many top-rank players to show up in Hong Kong.
For example, McIlroy is the only player from the Race to Dubai's current top-10 entered for in the European Tour's penultimate event -- against seven in the 12-man field at Sun City.
And of the nine players from the top-10 in the world rankings in action this week, four of them play Nedbank and four feature in the 18-strong field at Tiger's $5m Chevron World Challenge in California.
Hard cash rules in pro golf, making McIlroy's determination to play in the Irish Open next summer all the more laudable.