Rory McIlroy: I probably won't even watch the Olympic golf

Masters champion Danny Willett poured fuel on the fire that is burning in the build-up to the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon by claiming golfers had 'more chance of getting malaria in South Africa' than picking up the Zika virus at the Olympics in Rio.

Rory McIlroy defended his decision not to go to the Olympics.  Picture: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy defended his decision not to go to the Olympics. Picture: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

But, hitting back at the criticism being aimed at some of the game’s leading players for opting out of next month’s Games due to health concerns, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy not only defended his decision but said he’d be watching “events that matter like track and field, swimming and diving” rather than his own sport.

The prelude to the season’s third major continued to be overshadowed by the controversy caused by golf’s four top-ranked players – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and McIlroy – being among more than 20 men to withdraw from the sport’s return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

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Two-time major winner Spieth described his decision to pull out of Team USA as the “hardest I’ve ever made”, admitting it is likely to “loom” over him and insisted he’d be making it a “significant goal” to be at Tokyo in 2020, when golf’s place has already been secured.

Danny Willett believes the threat of Zika has been overstated. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Willett, who is set to join

Justin Rose, Catriona Matthew and Charley Hull in Team GB, also admitted he’d been faced with a “tough decision” but is delighted to be getting the chance to compete in the Olympics and pointed out golfers face bigger threats than Zika around the world.

“I was pretty sure all along I wanted to go to play unless the threat would have gotten worse because then it would have been a very different story,” said the Englishman. “

“But, from what I understand in speaking to the guys, the threat is lessening every day.

Danny Willett believes the threat of Zika has been overstated. Picture: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

“It has been around since the 1970s. Only recently has it been published that this, that and the other can happen and it’s probably because you have 11,000 of the best athletes in the world heading there.

“You’ve got more chance of getting malaria in South Africa than you have in getting Zika when you go to Rio.

“Would guys pull out because of malaria if the Olympic Games were down in Johannesburg? Hopefully by the time we get to Rio, it’s not really talked about and it’s not really an issue.”

What has definitely become an issue this week, though, is that the game’s leading lights are divided over golf’s

return to the Olympics, with McIlroy insisting his decision to pull out had caused a lot

less strain than Spieth had faced.

“Honestly, I don’t think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for him,” said the world No 4. “I don’t feel like I’ve let the game down at all. I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win major championships.

“All of a sudden, you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game, and I get that.

“But, at the same time, that’s not the reason that I got into golf. I got into golf to win. I didn’t get into golf to get other people into the game.

“But, look, I get where different people come from and different people have different opinions. But I’m very happy with the decision that I’ve made and I have no regrets about it.

“I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch.”

Asked which ones they’d be, the Ulsterman added: “Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters.”