Irish representation at Augusta looks set to be McIlroy and Lowry
Rory McIlroy has taken to visiting Augusta in the week ahead of the Masters
Rory McIlroy during round one of the WGC-Dell Matchplay at the Austin Country Club in Texas. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy got reacquainted with Augusta National on Monday for the first of a two-day stint of due diligence at the course which the Northern Irishman hopes will finally enable him to acquire the final piece of the jigsaw in his quest for a career Grand Slam.
The Northern Irishman arrived in Augusta on Sunday evening after failing to get out of his group in the WGC-Dell Matchplay, which was his final preparatory tournament ahead of the Masters.
Ahead of the season’s first Major, McIlroy planned to play the course Monday and Tuesday before returning to his home in Florida to continue his preparations, only returning to Augusta next Monday evening ahead of the tournament.
As things stand there are 92 players invited to play in the Masters. Ross Fisher and Hideto Tanihara earned late invites on the back of their performances in the Dell Matchplay, the Englishman and the Japanese golfer each forcing their ways into the world’s top 50.
One final place will be reserved at Augusta for the winner of this week’s Shell Houston Open should the champion not already be eligible, which would bring the field up to 93 players. Tiger Woods, who hasn’t played since withdrawing prior to the second round of the Dubai Desert , remains in the field.
The Houston Open has a good track record in throwing up winners without a ticket to Augusta. Jim Herman won last year, the third player in the past four – Matt Jones in 2014 and DA Points in 2013 – to earn a last-minute invite.
However, the Irish representation at Augusta looks set to be just two (McIlroy and Shane Lowry) after Graeme McDowell decided not to play in Houston and Séamus Power is only sixth reserve to get into the tournament.
Lowry, who failed to get out of his group at the matchplay, had not got Houston on his schedule and returned home to Dublin to continue his preparations for the Masters with a plan to fly back stateside on Saturday.
McIlroy has taken to visiting Augusta in the week ahead of the tournament when he can prepare in a measure of peace and tranquillity.
Despite missing six weeks of the early part of the season due to a stress fracture in his rib, McIlroy – remarking after his exit from the Matchplay – observed that the time away from competition could make him fresher for the challenge.
“I can’t see a downside to not having played as much as I planned to. I feel really healthy, and I don’t feel any issue with my health. So, freshness could help especially mentally, going in there and not being drained . . . I wouldn’t try to emulate this build-up in the next few years even if it does work this year.”
McIlroy’s immediate focus is obviously on the Masters, but he yesterday released his summer schedule, which does not include the Scottish Open the week ahead of the British Open at Birkdale.
McIlroy will be taking a break after the Masters to get married, returning to competition at the Players championship in May followed by the BMW PGA at Wentworth (the first of the new megabucks Rolex Series on the European Tour), the Memorial tournament, the US Open and Travelers Championship in June and then hosting the DDF Irish Open ahead of the British Open.
Meanwhile, Redmond O’Donoghue, the chairman of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland, said a new report , “A Satellite Account for Golf in the Republic of Ireland”, which was released on Monday, was “the first peg in the ground” in tracking golf’s standing.
Carried out by the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, the research found there was €540 million spent on golf annually in Ireland (€379m in the Republic, €161m in Northern Ireland), with over 9,000 people directly employed by the golf sector on the island.