Rory McIlroy could be tempted to skip next year’s Irish Open for a return visit to the scene of his record-breaking US Open triumph.
At least, that appears to be the scenario facing the player, his management and the European Tour as the 2012 schedule hoves into view.
The current world No 3 has decided to rejoin the US circuit next season but if moves to stage the Irish Open at the end of June come to fruition, the County Down native could be tempted to remain in the US to tee it up in the clashing, AT&T National at Congressional Country Club - scene of his incredible eight-shot US Open win this summer.
At least, that was the stark message blaring from between the lines of an email reply from agent Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, who indicated that McIlroy could be forced to choose between his national open and the $6.5m event at Bethesda, Maryland if the event was moved.
Sources have indicated that the European Tour is about to negotiate an Irish Open deal with potential sponsors Zurich that could see the event move from the last weekend in July to the last weekend in June.
But while that comes two weeks after the US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, it also clashes with the PGA Tour’s AT&T National at Congressional Country Club, scheduled for June 28 to July 1.
McIlroy is currently working on a 2012 schedule that will see him play on both the US PGA Tour and the European Tour.
But the European Tour will have to be careful when deciding on a potential date change for the Irish Open if it does not want to run the risk of losing a player who could well be the world No 1 by next summer.
Baldly stating that McIlroy could be lured to Congressional during Irish Open week, Chandler said: “Rory is considering his options at the moment, the tournament in the States is at Congressional so it is reasonably attractive too!!”
Chandler’s use of not one but two exclamation marks could be considered the grammatical equivalent of a wink to the wise, especially in the light of McIlroy’s remarks at last week’s KLM Open in Holland.
While discussing his proposed 2012 schedule, he was asked if the Irish Open would figure and replied with an enigmatic, “Depends.”
Perhaps realising that was not quite the same answer he gave when he announced his decision to rejoin the PGA Tour in August (he vowed always to play in the Irish Open), he hastily added: “Of course… I’m not sure when the date is yet, so that’s why.”
The current end of July date is not ideal for Ireland’s ‘Big Four’ of McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke. Coming just a week after the Open Championship, they must play the Irish Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA in successive weeks.
Add in the Scottish Open the week before The Open - all four were there this year - and it is no wonder that McIlroy has struggled in the Irish Open for the past two seasons, finishing 35th in 2010 and 34th this year.
He has hinted strongly that he finds the event tough work in every sense, a feeling that was echoed in George O’Grady’s comments during this year’s Irish Open launch at Failte Ireland headquarters, when he indicated that special security measures might be needed to deal with McIlroy Mania that was of Elvis proportions.
McIlroy was already complaining about the grind of the Irish Open before he became a major champion this year.
“It’s so difficult trying to deal with all the expectations that people have of us, along with all the off course commitments that we have,” he said after last season’s disappointing performance at the weekend. “I struggled to find time to work on my game!!!”
This year, he said: “You’re sort of being pulled here and there and everywhere, and it sort of is hard to have your focus 100 percent on the golf because there’s so much else going on around it.”
Winning the Irish Open might be an ambition but until (unless?) it moves north of the border to Royal Portrush, McIlroy has other issues on the front burner, such as winning more majors and becoming world No 1.
During an appearance the Faldo Series Europe Grand Final at the Lough Erne Resort on Monday, the 22-year old insisted that his goal for foreseeable future is to become a more prolific winner and chase down Luke Donald at the top of the world rankings.
And his old mentor Faldo confirmed yesterday that achieving those goals will mean major scheduling decisions for a young Irishman who is now one of sport’s most sought-after stars.
“There is a lot going on his life - a lot of adapting to people wanting his time - and he is reacting to that,” Faldo said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“He is changing his schedule next year, he is going to be wanted everywhere and so his priority has got to be golf and all those things have got to be juggled.
“But I think he is a smart enough kid with a good head on his shoulders and he has goals. I am sure these last couple of months [since the US Open] he is just finding his feet and then next year, he will step it up.”
Whether the Irish Open is part of those plans remains to be seen. Moving the event north of the border might be the only sure-fire way of guaranteeing his presence.