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Rory McIlroy bidding to switch Irish Open date to become 2019 Open Championship warm-up

By Adam McKendry

The world's top golfing stars could play back-to-back tournaments in Ireland next year if Rory McIlroy is successful in negotiating a deal with organisers of the Scottish Open.

With the long-awaited return of The Open Championship to Royal Portrush finally happening next year, McIlroy has approached both the European Tour and the Scottish Open hosts over a potential swap for one year.

Usually the Scottish Open occurs the week before The Open, attracting a blockbuster field as top ranked players prepare their links game for the third Major of the year.

Five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson is a long-time attendee of the Scottish Open, while Rickie Fowler has also been a frequent recent inclusion too.

However, with the Irish Open held the week before the Scottish, it would mean next year that most golfers would have to travel from Ireland over to Scotland and then back to Ireland to compete at Portrush.

McIlroy's plan would eliminate the need for the additional travel, while Lahinch has been rumoured to be the destination, which would be ideal for those who wish to test themselves on a links course a week before The Open.

The deal would likely see McIlroy commit to playing in the Scottish Open for the forseeable future - a tournament he does play in regularly already - in exchange for the move, which would only occur for next year before reverting back to its current state for 2020.

There is no guarantee organisers would agree to it, however. There is every chance the Scottish Open would lose some of its entrants to the Irish Open as a result, and that in turn could affect gate receipts and therefore overall revenue.

The European Tour themselves could also put a halt to the proposed swap, however sources suggest that CEO Keith Pelley would be open to the move due to the sustained popularity of the Irish Open.

Instead, the likeliest person that McIlroy must convince is Martin Gilbert, head of long-time Scottish Open sponsor Aberdeen Standard Investment.

It is not known how willing Gilbert would be to agreeing to the move, however the possibility of having McIlroy, one of the world's best and most marketable golfers, guarantee his place in the field for the future of the Scottish Open would be tough to pass up on.

The 2019 Irish Open will be the first in a brand new rotation of tournament hosts after McIlroy's foundation took over as host in 2015.

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley will be the host, and it is believed he is keen on taking the event to Lahinch.

"It would be great if the Scottish Open could just switch dates with us for this one year," said McIlroy at last week's Honda Classic.

"We have asked Keith Pelley and Keith advised me he's asked Martin Gilbert if he would agree to swap dates with the Irish just for this one-year next year.

"It might mean I would agree to play the Scottish Open for a few years but I don't know.

"But then everyone has their own individual agenda, so we'll see."

McIlroy also revealed he has flown over his coach Michael Bannon to Florida after his struggles around the infamous Bear Trap at PGA National last weekend.

The Ulsterman limped through the three holes - the difficult 15th, 16th and 17th - in a combined five-over par for the four days, including a triple bogey on day two and a quadruple bogey in round four.

That contributed to McIlroy slumping to a 59th placed finish at the Honda Classic, whereas had he even gone round those three in level par then he would have instead finished in a much more promising tie for 29th.

Bannon will work with McIlroy ahead of his next event, which is currently scheduled to be the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida.

"It's sort of nice that I am now off the golf course but then I would like to be still playing out there," the World No.10 added.

"Looking back on the week it was a tough first two days and the course played a little easier on the weekend but then I just didn't play well over the four days even though I felt I played okay today.

"I just made a mess of 17 again as I played that hole in a few over this week.

"So, I just need to get onto the range and work a bit on my iron-play and my wedge-play because playing in the wind this week the ball just kept creeping back on my stance.

"I then got a little bit in front of it and it would go right and if I didn't quite time it, it would go left."

Belfast Telegraph

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