Stronger Field for Olympic Golf in 2020

(ATR) After skipping Rio 2016, world number three Rory McIlroy is keen to make his Olympic debut in Tokyo.

PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 18: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 18, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

(ATR) World number threegolfer RoryMcIlroy has givenanothervote of confidence for Olympic golf, while affirming his strong desire to play at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

"I think with where golf is, with it being part of the Olympic Movement, I think if I had to look back on my career and not played in one, I probably would have regretted it,"McIlroy said, at the RoyalPortrush Golf Club prior to the start of the 148th Open Championship. "So that was part of the reason I wanted to go, for the experience, as well.

"It’s going to be a wonderful experience," said the 30-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland. "I’ve never done anything like that before."

McIlroy’spositivity toward Olympic golf, and regretfor skipping the Rio 2016 tournament,came one dayprior to his highly disappointing opening round of 79 at RoyalPortrush on Thursday.

The historicDunluce linksis a course thatMcIlroy – whogrew up near the capital of Belfast – hasbeen playing since age of 10. He appears in jeopardy of missing the weekend cut.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic tournamentwill be contested over four rounds at theKasumigaseki CountryClub, July 30–August 2.

"I enjoy Japan, I enjoy the people, I enjoy the food, so it will be a nice week,"McIlroy said.

McIlroy opted to skip golf’s return to the Olympics at Rio 2016 citing concerns over theZika virus. In the lead-up to the Rio Games, the outspoken pro golfer also said that he most likely wouldn’t watch Olympic golf on TV. The sport made its highly anticipated return to the Olympic program after 112 years.

The four-time major championconfirmed in May that his allegiancewill be with the Republic of Irelandand not Great Britain at the Tokyo Games. The British Olympic team includes Northern Ireland but McIlroy said he would play for the Republic of Ireland because he grew up playing golf within the whole-island organization of the sport.

Fellow Northern Ireland golferGraeme McDowell – who has received equal media and fan attention this week in his hometown ofPortrush – saidthat he empathizes withthe predicament thatMcIlroy faces.

"For sure in the whole Olympic question, Northern Ireland sits in such a unique, precarious, kind of situation," McDowell said. "There’s no right or wrong answer, which is difficult for an athlete, especially one who has such a high profile like Rory."

Justin Rose, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist,said he is excited to defend his title in Tokyo.

"For sure, Tokyo 2020 is going to be a huge priority," said Rose, who shot two-under 69 in his opening round at RoyalPortrush. "Right now, it’s still very much over a year away, so it’s not in my mind, but very much focusing on the major championships this year.

"But certainly to be a two-time Olympic champion, to wrap up an eight-year cycle, would be unbelievable.

"Obviously, I know the Olympics isn’t a major, but it’s almost being treated as one from the crowd and people I come in contact with on a daily basis," said the 2016 Olympic gold medalist.

The 38-year-old British golfer said that thesuccess in Rio was among his career highlights. Rose overtook Sweden’sHenrikStenson on the 72nd hole, winningby two strokes.

"Even though I haven’t won a major since Merion, I think the Olympic gold has been a very nice addition tothe career and resume," he said, referring to victory at the 2013 U.S. Open.

Roseisconfident that player enthusiasm for Tokyo 2020 will be an entirely different situation than was the case for Olympic golfin Brazil.

"I think golf in Tokyo is going to be well supported by all of the top players, in my opinion, this time around," Rose said. "I think it’s going to be a fantastic showcase for golf."

Similar to theRio 2016 format, 60 men and 60 women will qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic tournament. No more than two players per countryare permitted, unless a country has more than two among the top 15 in the Olympic World Golf Rankings. Inthis case, up to four can qualify.

Based upon the current rankings,McIlroy would be joined in Tokyo by Irishman Shane Lowry, who shot an impressive opening round of 67 at the Open to secure his place near the top of theleaderboard.

Rose,who iscurrently ranked fourth in the world, would be joined byPaul Casey on Team GB.

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Portrush, Northern Ireland

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