McIlroy to miss Irish Open but will maintain European Tour membership

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Rory McIlroy is set to miss the Irish Open in order to focus on The 148th Open at Portrush, but confirms he WILL take up European Tour membership

Rory McIlroy says that winning The Open Championship at Portrush is more important for him than completing the career Grand Slam at Augusta, stating that it would be 'the biggest achievement of his career'. 

Speaking to BBC Sport Northern Ireland's Stephen Watson at the WGC Mexico, McIlroy said that if he 'could pick one tournament to win this year, it would be Portrush,' while also adding that it is the reason why he has decided to skip the 2019 Irish Open.

"I would definitely leave Augusta on the backburner and say if I could win at Portrush, win The Open Championship, lift the Claret Jug there, that would be... I'm trying not to think about it, because I think I would get over excited, 

Asked if it would be the biggest thing he could achieve in his career, McIlroy replied '100 percent'. 

"I never thought I'd play a major at home in Northern Ireland, so yeah I think, it would be the biggest achievement of my career, if I were able to do that."

It's the reason why McIlroy has decided to forgo the Irish Open this year.

“If there’s ever a year where I feel like I can miss the Irish Open, it’s this year. It’s a perfect storm. The Open’s at Portrush, if I were to play the Irish Open the Open Championship would be my third event in a row and for me personally that’s not the best way to prepare for what could be the biggest event of my life.

"I want to give myself the best chance to win The Open Championship, and that’s not discrediting and that’s not belittling the Irish Open in any way but if I want to give myself the best chance of winning The Open Championship I want to play the week before to get tuned up on a links course and then I want to go straight in to The Open.

“That third week is just a little too much for me. I love the Irish Open, I’ve supported it my whole career, but if there is any year to miss the Irish Open it is this one and I hope people will understand because I’m not doing it for any other reason than I think it gives me the best chance of winning The Open Championship.”

McIlroy WILL take up European Tour membership

The subject of Rory McIlroy and European Tour membership came to the fore last November when he admitted that he wanted to focus on America and the big events, and had just two European Tour events on his schedule for 2019. The requirements call for players to play a minimum of four events outside the majors and WGC's, and failing to meet that would mean McIlroy could well forfeit his membership for that year. At the time, he had said it wasn't something that particularly bothered him as it wouldn't affect his being picked for the Ryder Cup given that it wasn't a Ryder Cup year. 

"If it were to be that I don't fulfil my membership next year it is not a Ryder Cup year so it is not the end of the world," McIlroy had said at the time. "I'm always going to want to play the Ryder Cup so if that does happen, so be it, and I try to make the Ryder Cup team the year after."

It caused a social media frenzy with many pointing out it could mean he wouldn't be able to become a future Ryder Cup Captain, but when asked this week if he was still going to support the Tour, he seemed to backtrack on his previous comments. 

“I’ll still support it of course, I mean I want to play Ryder Cups and playing Ryder Cups means you’ve got to be a member of the European Tour so my main focus of golf is the major championships, the WGC’s, the biggest events in the world wherever they may be that given week, but to play Ryder Cup I wouldn’t miss that for the world so I’m still going to be a member of the Tour, I'm just going to sort of play as little as I can [on the European Tour] to save myself for the golf that I'm playing everywhere else also."

His comments come after a report earlier in the week from Bernie McGuire for golfbytourmiss.com, which claimed McIlroy had confirmed he hadn’t yet rejoined the European Tour for 2019 – but was likely going to.

“Whatever I earn next week in Mexico will not count on the Race to Dubai as I’ve not re-joined the European Tour,” it was claimed McIlroy told the website ahead of the final round at the Genesis Open.

“I was, for one reason or another, going to re-join at the end of last year but I didn’t though I’ll probably re-join in May.

“I was awarded Life Membership of the European Tour some time back but that is an honorary position and meaning you still have to re-join each year paying a membership fee.”

He has not yet made clear what the four tournaments would be should he keep his European Tour status for the year, but above comments indicate he will at least be playing the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club the week prior to Portrush.