While it had been one of the worst-kept secrets in golf this season, Rory McIlroy’s confirmed appearance in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open is, nonetheless, a huge boost for the event’s first visit to The Renaissance Club in East Lothian.
McIlroy may have gone off the boil a bit in terms of getting himself in the mix in majors, having been stuck on four wins in those events since landing the 2014 US PGA Championship at Valhalla and, at the same time, seeing Brooks Koepka become the man to beat on the game’s main stages.
However, the 30-year-old Northern Irishman remains one of the biggest attractions in the sport and his presence in the ASI Scottish Open on 11-14 July is, quite simply, a game-changer for the $7 million Rolex Series event.
McIlroy, after all, didn’t play in either of the Scottish Opens at Gullane in recent years. He was due to tee up in the 2015 event before injuring himself in a football kickabout with some of his mates and missed both that tournament and also an Open Championship title defence at St Andrews the following week.
He then skipped the event’s return to Gullane last year, opting to take the week off, but, as had been expected, it is set to be third time lucky as far as his presence in the tournament on Scotland’s Golf Coast is concerned.
As reported by The Scotsman earlier this month, McIlroy ended speculation that he was set to snub the European Tour this season when took up his membership before the cut-off at the end of April.
In addition to the Scottish Open, he will also definitely be playing in the Omega European Masters in Switzerland in August, while it is believed that both the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai are on his schedule as well in the second half of the season.
It will be his sixth appearance in the Scottish Open and only his third since the tournament moved away from Loch Lomond. Significantly, one of those appearances – at Royal Aberdeen in 2014 – helped him become one of six of the last nine winners of The Open who prepared for that event by getting some links action in the Scottish Open the previous week. After opening with a 64 at Balgownie Links and also signing for scores of 68 and 67 in the final two rounds, McIlroy finished 14th behind Justin Rose in the Granite City before heading to Merseyside to get his hands on the Claret Jug for the first time.
In his last Scottish Open appearance, he missed the cut at Dundonald Links in 2017 at a time when he was struggling with his game, having also made an early exit from the Irish Open, which he was hosting, at Portstewart the previous week.
When it emerged earlier this year that McIlroy was planning to play in the Scottish Open and not the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open as they once again form part of a three-week ‘Links Swing’ on the European Tour in July, he was slaughtered by one columnist in an Irish newspaper.
His absence at Lahinch is certainly a blow to Paul McGinley as he takes on the role of Irish Open host for the first time and it was probably out of respect to the 2014 Ryder Cup-winning captain that a press release on McIlroy playing instead at The Renaissance Club didn’t include any quotes from the world No 4.
McIlroy will be aiming to let his clubs do the talking in the Scottish Open as he uses that event to give himself the best chance possible of achieving arguably his biggest goal in 2019, which would be winning an Open Championship on home soil as Royal Portrush stages the game’s oldest major for the first time since 1951.
While McIlroy will be playing in his first event in East Lothian other than an Open Championship appearance at Muirfield in 2013, he is no stranger to the area. He opened the Nike Performance Centre at Archerfield Links in 2014 and was back there at the end of last year along with his wife, Erica, as guests at the wedding of fellow European Tour player Oliver Fisher.
McIlroy will spearhead a star-studded field at The Renaissance Club on 11-14 July, with 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson, American Matt Kuchar, Scottish No 1 Russell Knox and former world No 1 Lee Westwood also confirmed and other big names still to be announced.
Tickets – including official Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open hospitality packages – are available at www.asiscottishopen.com