After a 91-day absence, McIlroy leads out PGA Tour return

Bernie McGuire
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Rory McIlroy (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

It has been 91 days since World No. 1 Rory McIlroy birdied his closing three holes on day one in defence of his Players Championship title at TPC Sawgrass in Florida and in advance of the return to golf he was asked if ‘The Troubles’ of Northern Ireland had afforded him a good understanding of the current world unrest following the slaying of black American George Floyd.

McIlroy returns to competition after a three-month Coronavirus PGA Tour lockdown but the overall excitement of golf leading a way forward is very much tempered by the events of May 25th when Floyd was murdered on a Minneapolis street.

Floyd’s death is to be remembered by the Tour at 8.46am local US time (2.46pm Irish) on Thursday when all play on day one of the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas will halt for a minute’s silence.

The time 8.46 was chosen specifically as it was for eight minutes and 46 seconds that the charged and now former Minneapolis police officer laid his knee at the neck of Floyd.

McIlroy’s tee time is not till 1.06pm local time (7.06pm Irish) meaning he will not be on-course at the moment of remembrance though he was asked if he felt what was unfolding across the world brought back memories of his childhood days in suburban Belfast.

‘The Troubles’ was a horrific 30-year period from 1968 to 1998 of conflict between the Protestants and Catholics and while McIlroy was not born to 1989, there were still plenty of reminders for him and particularly for his parents not to have been affected.

“I think it does in a way, I think it does in a way, and yeah, I think — a great word that I’ve sort of been thinking of over the last couple of weeks is tolerance,” he said.

“I think everyone can just be a little more tolerant, and a little more educated and not as ignorant.

“I would not say nowadays but any day, even going back in history, as there’s never been a place in society for what has gone in the world over the past I don’t know hundreds of years.

“The fact there does seem to be this real will to change and have reform is amazing and it’s been a great thing to see, and I hope it continues to be in the conversation.

“As we move forward, I think people have learned a lot over the last few weeks and hopefully we will see things change as time goes on.”

And in returning to competition after a 91-day absence McIlroy believes golf at its highest level needs to be simplified and with ‘fewer umbrellas’

McIlroy remarked that the tour bodies, looking to reschedule events since the cancellation of golf early in March, has highlighted the difficulties faced by the various tours.

One of those has been the financial struggle revealed by European Tour CEO, Keith Pelley in now staging six events on UK soil in succession but each with a prize purse of just Euro 1m.

“I am concerned for the various tours and it’s not great when they are having to do things because they are taking such a financial hit due to the Coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

“I don’t feel like I am responsible for the health of the various tours because as a player, I play on the PGA Tour and European Tour and I am very grateful for the opportunity they have provided over the years.

“If anything, this pandemic has highlighted the game of golf at the highest level needs to be simplified.   There are too many funnels.  There are too many channels.

“I don’t know if the game under one umbrella is the solution but definitely fewer umbrellas than there is at present is the way forward.”

McIlroy particularly singled out the four Major Championship organisers – Augusta National, the USGA, the PGA of America and the R & A.

“The major championship organising bodies and the bigger governing bodies in the game of golf have now realised there are so many moving parts and more cohesion in the game is better,” he said.

“I’m not saying it will be a good thing but at the same time I think it has opened-up some people’s eyes to the fact that we can all work together a little bit better in this world.”

It was around 9pm local time on Thursday 12th March when McIlroy received a PGA Tour ‘group’ text message advising the Players Championship had been cancelled.

Since then McIlroy has been in virtual lock-down mode in his Florida abode until just a few weeks ago when the golf courses re-opened, allowing him to move from practicing his putting into a coffee cup placed on a living room rug to moving to the Bear’s Club course.

“It’s back to work and I’m excited to be back on the road and doing what I am supposed to do and that is to play golf and compete,” he said.

“That is the one thing I have missed the most over the past few months and that’s the competition.  I sort of realised over the past three months that I like golf and golf has given me a lot of good things but the thing I have missed the most has been the competition.

“I was very happy to put the clubs away for a few weeks but once you saw the light at the end of the tunnel and you knew what you were practicing for and preparing for, that’s when you start to get those feelings back again.

“Expectation-wise?  I will have to see how it goes.  I have been playing a lot of golf the last few weeks and my game seems to be there.  It seems to be there at home and if it’s there at home there is no reason why it should be any different out here in Fort Worth.

“The first couple of days will be a real test and I will learn a lot about my game over the first two rounds.”

IRISH TEE TIMES

1.34pm (Irish time) – Graeme McDowell

2.18pm – Shane Lowry

7.06pm – Rory McIlroy

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