McIl­roy may not play in Europe this year over virus con­cerns

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By James Cor­ri­gan GOLF CORRESPOND­ENT

Rory McIl­roy might not ap­pear on the Euro­pean Tour this year. In com­ments that will cause con­ster­na­tion on his home cir­cuit, the North­ern Ir­ish­man in­di­cated that coro­n­avirus fears would re­strict his travel from the United States.

The world No2 plays in to­day’s first round of the WGC St Jude FedEx Clas­sic in Mem­phis, try­ing to re­lo­cate his form for next week’s USPGA Cham­pi­onship in San Fran­cisco. McIl­roy will then at­tempt to de­fend his FedEx Cup crown be­fore the US Open in Septem­ber.

“Hon­estly, I don’t know if I see my­self go­ing back to Europe this year,” the 31-year-old said. “I don’t know if I want to travel, I don’t know if I want to be ex­posed to more things and more peo­ple.”

Many will spot irony af­ter his crit­i­cism of Euro­pean Ry­der Cup team-mates – in­clud­ing Tommy Fleet­wood and Francesco Moli­nari – who skipped the early events of the PGA Tour’s restart last month.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing he felt “sym­pa­thy” with Lee West­wood and Eddie Pep­perell – who have spurned the chance to play in the US PGA – McIl­roy said he would have trav­elled across the At­lantic for a ma­jor. “I un­der­stand where they’re com­ing from, but if it was an Open, I would prob­a­bly take the risk,” he said.

As it is, McIl­roy is fo­cus­ing on his game af­ter a quar­tet of er­ratic dis­plays since the lock­down was lifted – the first time he has gone four events with­out a top 10 in 2½ years. “If I can put four solid rounds to­gether, I’ll have a chance,” he said.

The sus­pi­cion is that the born per­former is find­ing the no-crowds scene flat. When asked if he felt the thrill of a ma­jor build-up, he replied: “Not re­ally. It’s the peo­ple and the at­mos­phere, that’s what makes a tour­na­ment and when you don’t have that, there’s noth­ing for them to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves.”

It could be worse – he could be Brooks Koepka. Top of the rank­ings in Fe­bru­ary, the Amer­i­can is now sixth. He has missed two of his past three cuts and, suf­fer­ing from a knee in­jury, has not be­gun to re­sem­ble the golfer who has won four of his past 10 ma­jors. Next week he will be de­fend­ing cham­pion again, as he tries to be­come the first player to win three US PGAs in suc­ces­sion.

Mean­while, on the Euro­pean Tour, Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen plays his first tour­na­ment in al­most a year af­ter be­ing ar­rested and charged with sex­ual as­sault, as­sault by beat­ing and be­ing drunk on an air­craft. Ole­sen has en­tered a “not guilty” plea and de­nies the charges.

The Dane’s trial has been de­layed un­til De­cem­ber 2021, and so the Tour lifted its sus­pen­sion and Ole­sen is at the Hero Open at the For­est of Ar­den.

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