Rory McIlroy believes European players who have opted to contest the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational instead of the French Open “might regret it”, but accepts defending champion Shane Lowry was put in an unenviable position.
A re-working of the PGA Tour’s calendar to accommodate golf’s return to the Olympics saw the WGC event brought forward to the end of June, bringing it into direct conflict with the French Open at Le Golf National, venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.
The European Tour responded by withdrawing its sanction of the WGC event just two days after Lowry won it last August, meaning money won there will not count for Ryder Cup points or towards the Race to Dubai.
And to encourage the likes of McIlroy to choose Paris over Akron, the 100th French Open is also offering increased prize money and extra Ryder Cup points, as well as counting as two of the five tournaments outside majors and WGC events required for European Tour membership.
The winner will collect 64 points towards the Ryder Cup world points list - Bernd Wiesberger won 36 last year - and one million towards the European points list. By way of comparison, in 2014 Graeme McDowell needed 171 points to claim the last qualifying place for Gleneagles via the world points list, while Jamie Donaldson required 2.6million to secure the equivalent place on the European list.
Lowry’s share of second place in the US Open lifted him to 11th in the Ryder Cup standings and fellow contenders Andrew Johnston, Russell Knox and Soren Kjeldsen have opted to join the Irishman in competing in Akron.
Asked about the extra Ryder Cup points in a press conference ahead of the French Open, McIlroy - whose place at Hazeltine is already secure - said: “I think that was one of the incentives to come here, maybe not for myself, but for some of the other guys.
“I think a few guys that aren’t playing might regret it, depending on what happens when the team is picked at the end of August, but then you’ve got Shane who was in a tough position.
“He wins his first World Golf Championships last year and naturally you want to go and try to defend your title. So he was put in a tough position just because of the way the schedule was this year.
“But you could see many guys that are down the list and have a good week this week, they can put themselves right into contention for either an automatic place or a pick. It will be interesting to see how that unfolds.”
Lowry has been paired with last year’s runner-up Bubba Watson and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama for the first two rounds at Firestone Country Club, with Dustin Johnson alongside the man he succeeded as US Open champion, Jordan Spieth, and 2013 winner Justin Rose.