If that upsets anyone, that's their problem: Rory McIlroy to miss 2019 Irish Open with focus fixed on Open Championship at Portrush
Rory McIlroy has confirmed that he will sit out this season's Irish Open.
The world number eight was the tournament host from 2015 to 2018 and strived to place the Irish Open among the European Tour's top events.
However, he says missing out on this year's edition at Lahinch will give him a better chance of lifting the Claret Jug at the Open Championship in Portrush.
The Irish Open will be played, as is the norm, two weeks before the major in July.
McIlroy has previously said that he will look to play the week before the four major tournaments this season and has now confirmed his intention to tee it up at the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club rather than the week before in County Clare.
"If there is ever a year when I feel I can miss this Irish Open, it's this year," he told the BBC. "If I was to play the Irish Open, The Open Championship would be my third event in a row. For me, that's not the best way to prepare for what could be the biggest event of my life.
"I love the Irish Open. I've supported it in my whole career. The people of Ireland are still going to see me playing golf because I'm going to play The Open Championship and I'm sure a lot of people will travel from down south.
"I never thought I would play a major in Northern Ireland. It would be the biggest achievement of my career if I was able to win it."
The announcement has drawn a mixed reaction but McIlroy reiterated that the Open Championship's first visit to Northern Ireland since 1951 is his primary focus.
He said: "It's easy to criticise from far away because you don't know the details. I'm sure people are going to be upset but at the same time, if it means that it gives me a better chance to win The Open, and prepare well for Portrush, I'm going to do it.
"I'm going to make decisions that are the best thing for me. If that upsets anyone, then I'm sorry - that's not my problem, that's their problem."
At the start of the 2019 season, McIlroy confirmed that he would shift his focus to play most of his golf on the USA's PGA Tour. There were doubts immediately placed over his attendance at this season's Irish Open while his comments cause a backlash as he referred to the European Tour as a 'stepping stone'.
"The ultimate goal is here (the US)," he said as he made his 2019 debut at the PGA Tour's Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. "The European Tour is a stepping stone. That's the truth. The European Tour is a stepping stone. That's the way it is.
"It's tough. I still want to support the European Tour, and I talk about this loyalty thing with Europe. It's not as though I'm just starting out and jumping ship. I've done my time. I've done everything I feel like I need to do to say OK, I'm going to make my own decisions and do what I want.
"I'm still going to play in Europe and (the fans) are still going to see me play - maybe not as regularly as it used to be - but that's just a product of where the global schedule is right now and where my life is right now."
McIlroy must play four European Tour events this season if he is to hold on to his European Tour card for the 2020 season, which he says is his intention.
Paul McGinley is this year's tournament host at the Irish Open.
McIlroy is this week playing in a star-studded field at the year's first World Golf Championship in Mexico. He tees off in his opening round at 5.39pm (GMT) this evening (Thursday).
Belfast Telegraph Digital