Rory McIlroy took British Masters invite to avoid favouritism tag

‘I didn’t really want to put the European Tour in another sticky position’

 Rory McIlroy plays a shot on the second during the pro-am day at the British Masters at Close House Golf Club in Newcastle. Photograph:  Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Rory McIlroy plays a shot on the second during the pro-am day at the British Masters at Close House Golf Club in Newcastle. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

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Rory McIlroy concedes his late entry into the British Masters was influenced by the desire to avoid further accusations of receiving favourable treatment.

An injury-plagued campaign means McIlroy has played just three regular European Tour events to date, with players required to play a minimum of five to retain membership and be eligible for the Ryder Cup.

And that meant the four-time Major winner had little option but to accept an invitation from tournament host Lee Westwood to add the £3 million tournament at Close House to his schedule.

McIlroy was unable to play the required number of events in 2015 after suffering an ankle injury which forced him to miss the defence of his British Open title at St Andrews.

But European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley cited “exceptional circumstances” in granting McIlroy permission to remain in the Race to Dubai, which he led by 1,613 points from Danny Willett.

Willett felt McIlroy had been given an unfair advantage and the Northern Irishman went on to win the money list title with victory in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.

“I want to play Ryder Cup next year so I’ve obviously got to play my five events in Europe,” said McIlroy, who had considered ending his season after the US PGA in August in order to regain full fitness.

“There’s minimums and stuff like that and I’ve sort of been quite close to the edge on minimums and stuff the last few years.

“I didn’t really want to put the European Tour in another sticky position. So I thought I’ll play an extra one and not have to make them make the hard decision and have to answer to the membership about why I didn’t play the minimum when I could have and all that sort of stuff.”

McIlroy could also face questions from the European Tour rank and file following last week’s comments that a World Tour “has to happen” and that the “easy thing” would be for the PGA Tour to buy the European Tour.

But the 28-year-old insisted he had merely been thinking out loud when he made the comments on the No Laying Up podcast.

“I wasn’t saying it was going to happen next year, in five years or even 10 years’ time, but I think at some point something may happen,” McIlroy said.

“It was sort of just thinking out loud and seeing where this game was going – if I was to try to see 10 years into the future, where would the game be.

“I just think with where golf is and how the world is so much smaller now, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be events in Europe and why there shouldn’t be events in the States, but for everyone to maybe try to work together a little bit more.

“Maybe still having two separate entities, that’s totally fine. Because at the end of the day, the European Tour has to do what’s right for them, the PGA Tour has to do what’s right for them and they have to do what’s right for their members, and you have to give everyone playing opportunities on both sides of the world.

“I don’t know how it would work. It was just me throwing an idea out there and me throwing a thought out there. There’s so many moving parts to it and it’s so complicated but maybe one day, that’s all I was really saying.”

McIlroy remains on course for only the second winless season of his career, but insists he will feel more pressure to simply make the cut when he contests the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with his father Gerry.

“Obviously I’m here to try and win and I’m here to try and play well, but if it doesn’t happen I’m okay with that,” the world number six added.

“There’s more pressure [next week] for sure. [I’ve] Just got to make sure he makes the cut and we can both play on Sunday.”

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