French Open has priority says Clarke

 Bernd Wiesberger with the Open de France trophy. Picture: Getty Images

Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry have backed the European Tour’s move not to sanction the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational next year.

With the 2016 calendar packed tight because of golf’s return to the Olympics, the Americans scheduled the Firestone event opposite the 100th anniversary of the Alstom Open de France.

The European Tour has now decided not to include the Akron event on its 2016 schedule, meaning it won’t count for Ryder Cup qualification.

And while that could be blow to Shane Lowry’s hopes of defending his title from June 30 to July 3, or his Ryder Cup hopes, he understands Europe’s stance.

Admitting it was a show of strength by Europe, Lowry added: "It’s also a bit disappointing even though I haven’t played the French Open for three years.

"It will be hard not to go back and defend. But it’s a Ryder Cup year and it’s going to be a difficult decision to make for everyone. 

"Who knows what Rory will do, or Kaymer, Stenson and Poulter. We will see nearer the date or at the start of next year when I set out my schedule."

Ryder Cup skipper Clarke said he’d be encouraging his players to play in France, adding: "If they’re close to qualifying on the World Points list or they’re close to qualifying through the Race to Dubai Points List, it will be a tough decision for the guys to make. 

"It’s a tough decision for Shane since he won his first World Golf Championship at Firestone, and he may have a decision to make come next summer.

"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 of the European Tour. 

"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."

The European Tour said in a statement:

The European Tour has today announced that, due to a date clash with next season’s Alstom Open de France, it will not sanction the 2016 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
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.
Further details surrounding the 2016 Alstom Open de France will be released in due course, including information on the increase in the prize fund.
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive Officer of The European Tour, said: “The Albatros Course at Le Golf National is currently undergoing renovation to prepare not only for next year’s landmark tournament, but also for the staging of The Ryder Cup in 2018.
“The Alstom Open de France has been a staple on our Tour since 1972 and we are confident that next year’s event, with an increased prize fund alongside the current renovations to the golf course, will properly reflect the importance of the tournament alongside the 100th anniversary celebrations.”

The PGA Tour said in a statement:

"Coordinating a worldwide professional golf schedule always has its challenges.  Those challenges were even more acute for 2016 with addition of golf's inclusion in the Olympic Games. Several events were impacted and while we have had numerous conversations with the European Tour with respect to the scheduling of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, we were ultimately unable to find a solution that satisfied all parties. We look forward to staging a successful Bridgestone Invitational in 2016."