Friday 15 December 2017

Shane Lowry may have to choose between defending WGC title or Ryder Cup points next year

Shane Lowry of Ireland holds the Gary Player Cup after winning the World Golf Championships - Bridgestone Invitational during the final round at Firestone
Shane Lowry of Ireland holds the Gary Player Cup after winning the World Golf Championships - Bridgestone Invitational during the final round at Firestone

Phil Casey and Carl Markham

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke has backed the European Tour's decision to withdraw the Bridgestone Invitational from its 2016 schedule, even though that creates a dilemma for potential team members.

A re-working of the PGA Tour's 2016 calendar to accommodate golf's return to the Olympics has seen the prestigious World Golf Championship event brought forward to the end of June.

That brings it into direct conflict with one of the oldest tournaments in European golf, the Alstom Open de France at Le Golf National, venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.

And the European Tour has responded by withdrawing its sanction of the WGC event at Firestone Country Club, meaning money won in Akron will not count for Ryder Cup points or towards the Race to Dubai.

Ireland's Shane Lowry will undoubtedly want to defend the title he won in such style on Sunday, but he and others could be in need of Ryder Cup points at that time, with the qualifying race set to end on August 28 in Denmark.

"It's a tough decision for Shane, he won his first World Golf Championship at Firestone and he may have a decision to make come next summer," Clarke said in a press conference ahead of the US PGA Championship.

"Hopefully, if he plays well enough he won't find himself in that position.

"But in terms of what the European Tour has done, I think they've done the right thing by standing beside one of their mainstays. The French Open is steeped in history, around a wonderful venue that we have the 2018 Ryder Cup around. They've showed loyalty to the French Open and rightly so."

Clarke said he would advise prospective team members to play in France rather than Akron, but added: "I can't tell the guys what to do, I can tell them what I'd like them to do.

"But under no means would I try to tell one of my peers what he should do and what he shouldn't do. So that choice will be up to them. All I know is that I'm fully in support of what the European Tour has done to support the French Open.

"Do I think it will demean Firestone? No. Do I think it will make France better? Possibly. I hope so."

Graeme McDowell said last week he would choose Paris over Akron after winning there in 2013 and 2014 and admitted there was a "little bit of surprise" among the players at the clash of dates.

It is understood the PGA refused to consider a different date for the Bridgestone Invitational, leaving the European Tour with little choice.

"The European Tour is my home, that's where I learned this great game of golf, and I feel always loyal and I feel like I owe them something at all times," McDowell said. "But we're businessmen, and we're trying to be the best we can be, and you've got to make tough decisions sometimes as well.

"The schedule is a mess next summer, let's be honest. There's no other way to put it.

"The PGA Tour has had to make some tough decisions. I don't blame them. It's just business. It's just one of those things. Hopefully, we'll be back to normal the following year."

New European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said in a statement: "The Alstom Open de France is the oldest national open championship in continental Europe and has been a fixture on The European Tour International Schedule since the Tour's formation in 1972.

"Furthermore, next year's tournament at Le Golf National from Thursday June 30 to Sunday July 3 is not only in the week in the calendar occupied by the Alstom Open de France since 2009 it is also the 100th staging of the event.

"Withdrawing the sanction means that the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will not be part of The 2016 European Tour International Schedule, nor will money won in it count towards The Race to Dubai or for Ryder Cup points."

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