Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

McIlroy absence irks sponsor

Rory McIlroy has come in for criticism after missing a tournament in China

Choosing to play an exhibition match with Tiger Woods rather than a world championship three days later in the same country was always likely to be a controversial move by golf's world number one Rory McIlroy.

So it has proved with the sponsor of the HSBC Champions in China expressing his disappointment about the absence of the sport's two leading lights. Seven of the top 10 are at Mission Hills competing for a first prize of £743,000, but according to reports it cost the promoters of Monday's "Duel at Jinsha Lake" a lot more than that to attract McIlroy and Woods.

"I'm very realistic," Giles Morgan, the Global Head of Sponsorship and Events for HSBC, told Press Association Sport. "These type of promotional TV events happen and have a benefit for the sport - the more publicity the better. But what used to happen was that the players would make their schedules around big events and fit in what they could outside them."

He carried on: "That type of thing is fine, but these are the real test of golf. Outside of America and the UK this is the biggest event of them all.

"What makes this compelling is the strength of the field and it almost feels like they are missing out. This is the flagship event in Asia.

"These guys make their own decisions, but this feels bigger than it ever has before and there will be a great winner. Having a World Golf Championship in China was a very big step and it helps the sport grow. To have the best players is such a strong billboard for the game - it ignites the passion. Especially with the Olympics, golf is going into a new dawn."

In Brazil in 2016 the sport will be part of the Games for the first time in over a century.

"I think it can be sorted out," Morgan added. "I am absolutely convinced we will see the top players back. Perhaps it's an odd year - I hope so."

If not, then he sees it as a real concern for golf, which has survived the financial crisis far better than most sports.

Morgan concluded: "I believe that golfers have a responsibility to their sponsors. Without the sponsors there isn't professional golf. I speak on behalf of the industry. I feel very strongly, as I know a number of sponsors do - particularly in a downturn, particularly when there are financial difficulties around the world - that golf cannot be immune either."