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no show? Rory McIlroy is a doubt for Irish Open at Mount Juliet due to clash with US schedule

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Rory McIlroy in action during a practice round prior to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club. Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy in action during a practice round prior to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club. Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy in action during a practice round prior to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club. Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images

The Irish Open’s troublesome mid-summer date could force star attraction Rory McIlroy to miss the event for the third time in four years.

The biggest draw in Irish golf skipped the championship in 2019 at Lahinch, then missed the Covid-affected edition at Galgorm Castle in 2020 before finishing a lacklustre tied 59th at Mount Juliet last year.

McIlroy hasn’t yet ruled out a return to the Kilkenny course from June 30 to July 3, but with a plethora of PGA Tour commitments in June, the signs are far from encouraging.

“I haven’t made my decision yet,” the world No 8 said at Emirates Golf Club where he will bid to win the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic for the third time. “I know I’m playing a lot in the States around that time of year, Memorial, Canada, US Open, Travelers. Yeah, we’ll see, and I honestly haven’t made that decision yet. But whenever I do, I’ll certainly let you know.”

With the JP McManus Pro-Am coming on the Monday and Tuesday after the Irish Open from July 4-5, quickly followed by the PGA Tour co-sanctioned Scottish Open and the 150th Open at St Andrews, McIlroy will have to disappoint someone.

He’s making his first appearance at the Majlis Course, where the greens are now 40pc bigger following a five-month rebuild, since he finished second to Haotong Li in 2018. But he’s something of a course specialist, having made his debut as a 16-year-old amateur in 2006 when he missed the cut but dashed off to follow Tiger Woods inside the ropes.

“Tiger hit a 5-iron out of the right rough that landed on the green and stopped,” recalled the 2009 and 2015 champion. “It is one of the best golf shots I’ve ever seen. It still sticks in my mind and I was right there for it.”

Shane Lowry was left to rue two sevens on his card in a closing 77 in Abu Dhabi that wrecked his title hopes and left him tied 12th with McIlroy. But after getting over his disappointment by playing golf with footballers Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford on Monday, he’s upbeat about his early-season form.

“It was my first tournament of the year and I really wasn’t with it on Sunday,” said Lowry, who is joined in Dubai by Pádraig Harrington and Jonathan Caldwell.

Explaining he wasn’t prepared for such a demanding test after cruising around in 67 on Saturday, he added: “Mentally, I wasn’t really as good as I should have been. Look, I had two bad holes last week that cost me badly, and other than that the game is pretty good for this early in the new year.”

Meanwhile, Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire make their 2022 debuts in the Gainbridge LPGA in Florida. Maguire tees it up with Madelene Sagstrom and American Jennifer Kupcho (1.16pm Irish time) as Meadow partners Bronte Law and Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum (12.32).

In amateur golf, Ireland’s men tied 4½-4½ with France on the opening day of the men’s Octagonal Matches at Costa Ballena in Spain. In the Portuguese International Ladies Amateur Championship at Montado Golf, Aideen Walsh opened with a one-over 73 to share 14th place, four shots off the lead, with Beth Coulter 26th after a 75 and Kate Lanigan 69th after an 80.

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