Wednesday 18 September 2019

Ryder Cup team fears make Rory McIlroy tee off

Rory McIlroy during the Pro-Am of the British Masters at Close House. Photo credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Rory McIlroy during the Pro-Am of the British Masters at Close House. Photo credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

James Corrigan

Rory McIlroy has revealed he entered the British Masters, which starts here today, because he feared the European Tour could force him to miss next year's Ryder Cup.

After an injury-filled season, the Ulsterman was due to play in only next week's Dunhill Links before ending his year in order to recover fully from his long-standing rib complaint. But this would have left him one event short of the minimum required to fulfil his obligations as a member of his home circuit and thus be eligible for next year's match in France.

While many will laugh at the thought of the Tour stopping captain Thomas Bjorn from picking his main weapon for the tussle at Le Golf National, McIlroy claimed it was a genuine concern.

"Why am I here? Because I want to play Ryder Cup next year and obviously I've got to play my five events in Europe," McIlroy said. "So that was a big factor in that. Lee (Westwood, the tournament host) asked me at the wedding of Sergio (Garcia) in July if I was thinking about playing but I was hoping to be in last week's Tour Championship and take this week off. But I didn't make the Tour Championship, so I needed to add one more in, and this was the obvious one."

Two years ago, Keith Pelley, the European Tour's chief executive, was criticised for bending the rules and allowing McIlroy to play one event fewer than the minimum on his way to winning the Race To Dubai at the expense of Danny Willett.

"I didn't want to put the European Tour in another sticky position," he said. "So I thought I'll play an extra one and not have to answer to the membership about why I didn't play the minimum when I could have."

Newcastle is naturally delighted to have him. His presence at this hilly course just west of the city has raised the status of this event to make it probably the biggest ever staged in the North East.

Westwood - whose girlfriend, Helen Storey, is the sister of Andrea Wylie, the wife of Close House owner Graham - also used his influence to persuade Masters champion Garcia to turn out.

McIlroy plays his first round in the company of Ryder Cup team-mates Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick. He made his debut as a professional in this event 10 years ago, but he was keener to reflect on the disappointing season.

"If I had to do this year all over again, the only thing I'd change was not coming back for the US Open,' he said. "I came back too early. If I had missed Erin Hills, I would have given myself a better chance to win the Open and US PGA."

If McIlroy does not lift the title here or at St Andrews it would be the first time this decade that he has suffered a blank campaign. "I'm here to try and win but if I don't, I'm OK with that," he said. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

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