The European Tour is about to begin talks with a new sponsor that could see the Irish Open move from its August bank holiday slot to the end of June next season. Rory McIlroy, for one, is waiting anxiously for confirmation.
Sources close to the negotiations revealed: “The Tour is going to sit down with a potential sponsor in a fortnight and put all the scenarios on the table.
“The feedback the Tour got from Killarney this year was very favourable and returning there appears to be high on the agenda again.
“Of course, it will all depend on what the new sponsor wants to do but a new date is part of the talks and a late June date has been mentioned.”
The potential new sponsors, believed to be Zurich International, had representatives at the Irish Open from July 28-31 this year.
The event attracted Ireland’s four major winners in Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy. But it featured just three of the world’s top 50 in McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke and only 11 of the top 100 with defending champion Ross Fisher, who was 63rd at the time, the fourth best ranked player in the field.
The tournament’s position in the calendar - it comes just before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship - and the halving of the prize fund from €3m to €1.5m were certainly factors in the lack of strength in depth though the last weekend in July did boost crowds in Killarney.
However, a repeat of that date in 2012 would see the Irish Open clash with the Olympic Games in London, scheduled to take place from 27 July to 12 August, and that would prove unsatisfactory from a TV ratings point of view, especially if Failte Ireland is providing a substantial portion of the prize fund.
A move to a mid-summer date the end of June would see the Irish Open potentially move to either a week or two weeks after the US Open, which will be played at The Olympic Club in San Francisco from June 14-17
The two weeks directly following the US Open were occupied by the BMW International Open in Munich and the Alstom Open de France in Europe and Travelers Championship and the AT&T National in the US.
The week after the US Open would not be ideal for McIlroy and Co as it would force them to fly across eight time zones to tee it up on home soil. Finding a date that will suit the sponsors, the Tour and Ireland’s Big Four is crucial but McIlroy indicated on the eve of the KLM Open in Holland yesterday that a change of date is on the cards.
Asked about his 2012 schedule and his move to the US PGA Tour, he said: “I’ll play a very similar schedule… I mean, I’m still going to play around the world 25, 26 times, and I’m still going to play at least 15 or 16 times in Europe - well, on The European Tour.”
Asked about the Irish Open, he said mysteriously: “Depends.”
But he quickly rectified, adding: “Well, yes, of course but I’m not sure when the date is yet, so that’s why [it depends?]”
McIlroy hasn’t felt comfortable at the Irish Open for the past two years and was obviously ill at ease with the constant demands for autographs this year. Skipping the event would be PR suicide and appears unlikely in the short term.
His immediate priority is to win as many times as he can in what remains of the season so he can move closer to his goal of becoming world number one at some stage next year.
Currently ranked fourth, he tees it up in a KLM Open field that features world No 2 Lee Westwood and defending champion, Martin Kaymer, the world No 3.
Ruling out an assault on Luke Donald’s number one ranking just yet, McIlroy said: “I’m not desperate, but it’s definitely a goal that I’ve set for myself. I feel as if it’s very attainable.
“It might not be this year, but definitely into next year. I can give myself a very good platform to kick off the season next year if I end the season well.
“So all I want to do is try and get closer to Lee, obviously at No. 2 and then to look at No. 1. Luke’s got a little bit of a lead at the minute and it would be nice to get closer to him.
“But at the end of the day, winning golf tournaments takes care of that. So I want to just concentrate on trying to play well and give myself chances to win every week that I play.”