Rory McIlroy looking for Memorial bounce back after poor show at Kiawah

Jon Rahm defends the title that saw him dislodge McIlroy from world number one slot

 Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates with Jack Nicklaus and the trophy after winning  The Memorial Tournament  at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio in July 2020. Photograph:  Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates with Jack Nicklaus and the trophy after winning The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio in July 2020. Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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This week’s stop on the PGA Tour, the Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village golf club, will resonate a little more with Rory McIlroy based on the events of last year – it was held in mid July because of the Covid-19 disruption to the schedule – as it marked the final week of his most recent reign as the world’s number one golfer.

The Northern Ireland golfer had enjoyed that status for the eighth time in his career to date from February 2020 until early July when Spain’s Jon Rahm won the Memorial and with that victory clambered to the top of the official world golf rankings (OWGR) for the first time.

As a brief aside, McIlroy was only credited with 11 weeks as number one during that stint because the rankings were frozen for a period of time due to the coronavirus pandemic. The OWGR were produced on March 15th, 2020 and restarted on June 14th, 2020. No rankings were produced for the 12 weeks between these dates and therefore he was not credited with that time at the top.

McIlroy returns to action for the first time since his disappointing tied-49th finish in the season’s second Major, the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. He had started as the pre-tournament favourite having won it when previously staged there in 2012 and also coming off a victory in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

The 32-year-old has consistently said that the work that he’s doing with Pete Cowen will take time to bed-in and there is evidence of that in aspects of his game despite that win. His best performances in recent times at ‘Jack’s place’ are a couple of Top 10 finishes, tied fourth in 2016 and tied eighth in 2018.

Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington also tee it up for the first time since they finished in a tie for fourth place behind Phil Mickelson – they played the final round together – at the US PGA Championship.

European Ryder Cup captain Harrington produced a week that was reminiscent of his days as one of the top players in the world and he travels to Ohio as one of several sponsor’s exemptions that also includes Danny Willett and Vijay Singh.

British Open champion Lowry has been enjoying an excellent run of results since mid-March, finishing eighth at The Players, 36th (Honda Classic), 21st (US Masters), ninth (RBC Heritage), 65th (Wells Fargo) and fourth (US PGA Championship).

The Memorial was the first of Rahm’s two wins in America last year, the first time he has managed that feat. He survived a final-round 75 and a two-shot penalty when his ball was adjudged to have moved as he grounded a club behind a wedge shot to the 16th. He is looking to become the first player to defend the title since Tiger Woods in 2001, which was part of three successive victories in the tournament.

The Spaniard is one of a handful of former winners in the field that includes Patrick Cantlay, Jason Duffner, William McGirt and the 2018 champion, FedEx points’ leader and very much a golfer in the news, Bryson DeChambeau. The US Open champion’s spat with Brooks Koepka is the gift that just keeps on giving at the moment, particularly in social media circles.

Paul Dunne, who has recovered from a neck issue that forced him to retire during last week’s tournament in Denmark, Niall Kearney, Jonathan Caldwell and Cormac Sharvin will tee it up at the Porsche Open in Hamburg, a tournament that has been reduced to a 54-hole event that starts on Saturday and concludes on Monday.

The tournament, at Green Eagle Golf Courses in Hamburg, was originally scheduled to begin on Thursday and played over 72 holes, but the late change has been made after the German government’s decision last week to place Britain on its travel ‘red list’.

This has meant almost a third of the scheduled 156-player field, along with a similar number of caddies and a significant number of European Tour Productions and European Tour staff, would have been unable to enter Germany without observing a mandatory quarantine period if they had not been outside Britain for a minimum of 10 days.

Moving the starting date of the Porsche European Open back two days to Saturday allows the vast majority of those people affected to spend that requisite time outside of Britain before crossing the border into Germany on Friday.

On the Challenge Tour, Tom McKibbin, Robin Dawson and Paul McBride will be in action in the Czech Republic.

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