McIlroy chooses City of Light over Rubber City

Right now his focus is on building up for the US Open at Oakmont in June but by deciding to play the 100th Open de France instead of the clashing WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in the run up to The Open, Rory McIlroy is clearly showing his solidarity with the European Tour and its Chief Executive Keith Pelley.

The Canadian’s first major act as boss came just a week after his appointment in August last year when, in reaction to the PGA Tour’s decisions to bring the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational forward because of the Olympics and slot it in opposite the Open de France, he decided that the European Tour would not sanction the Akron event.

Not only would cash earned at Firestone Country Club not count towards the Race to Dubai, but Pelley’s decision meant that any world ranking points earned would not count towards Ryder Cup qualification either.

That’s not great news for Shane Lowry, who has yet to decide whether or not he will defend his title in Ohio or head for Paris from June 30 to July 3. 

Given the enticements put in place by Mr Pelley to make the 100th staging of continental Europe’s oldest event a memorable one as the countdown begins to the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, the Clara man appears more likely to join McIlroy and Co in France unless he secures a Ryder Cup debut between now and then and can head to Akron to defend. 

As a Ryder Cup qualifying event, Paris is unmissable. It will count as two events towards the membership requirement and not only has the prize fund been increased from €3m to €3.5m but the number of Ryder Cup World Points has been doubled to 64 and the winner will also get one million points towards the European Points List.

McIlroy will not be concerned about Ryder Cup qualification but while he says his decision to play in Paris is designed to give him a major championship style test on a links course a fortnight before The Open at Royal Troon, he’s also showing his loyalty to the European Tour.

Using the tour’s biggest stars to reinvigorate the circuit’s traditionally strong events in Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Spain and Italy, is part of Pelley’s strategy for the circuit.

And whatever about his solidarity with the new boos, McIlroy believes the intense challenge of Le Golf National – the host venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup – will provide the best preparation for The Open at Royal Troon, two weeks later.

“Le Golf National might not be a pure links course, but it is traditionally firm and fast and can throw up some tricky conditions during the French Open,” said the world number three, who will not be playing the following week’s Scottish Open at Castle Stuart because (he said in 2014), he does not consider it “a true links course.”

“It’s a great test of golf,” he said of the Paris venue where he was fourth, a shot out of a playoff, on his last appearance in the event in 2010. “And I think playing there, as well as staying in Europe, will offer the best conditions to prepare for The Open at Troon.

“It will also be great to be part of the centennial edition of the French Open, which is one of the best events on the European Tour. I am sure there will be a special atmosphere at the tournament this year, so I’m looking forward to hopefully being a very big part of it. 

“In a perfect world I would be able to win the 100th Open de France and then keep the winning run going to The Open.”

In a straight shootout between the City of Light and Akron’s Rubber City, Paris won easily, not least because McIlroy proposed to his fiancée, Erica Stoll, in the romantic French capital just last Christmas.

The Holywood star’s next appearance comes in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in a fortnight, where he will be joined by Lowry and Pádraig Harrington, who finished a disappointing tied 25th behind Charley Hoffman in the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio on Sunday evening.

There are no Irishmen in action in this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans as Harrington has returned home for family duties as his sons Paddy and Ciaran are celebrating their Confirmation and First Communion on Thursday and Saturday respectively.

On the European Tour, where 22-year old South Korean Soomin Lee captured the weather delayed Shenzhen International in just his sixth European Tour start yesterday to move up 53 places to 75th in the world, the action moves 2,000 km north to Beijing for the Volvo China Open.

Greystones’ Paul Dunne failed to make the field but Irish golf will be represented by Michael Hoey and 2008 champion Damien McGrane, who is making his first appearance on tour since last October’s Portugal Masters.

The 44-year old has not played a major event since he failed to retain his European Tour card at the Qualifying School five months ago.