The galleries at Close House are sure to rally behind a strong contingent of Englishmen this week, including Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood. The biggest draw this week, though, is Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
The world No. 8 committed to the event last week, which came as a surprise to some who envisioned McIlroy taking a respite after missing out on the Tour Championship.
Him playing this week appears to be a positive sign for the 28-year-old who nearly passed on the FedEx Cup Playoffs to nurse a back and ribs that have ailed him off and on this year.
It’s also a welcome sight for British fans who haven’t seen him at this tournament since his rookie year in 2008.
“I’m looking forward to playing my first British Masters for a while,” McIlroy was quoted in a European Tour press release. “I kind of had it in the back of my mind that if I didn’t make the Tour Championship then there was a chance to tee it up at Close House, so I have decided to do that before finishing my season off the next week at the Dunhill Links.”
McIlroy’s last five starts read: T5, T22, T34, MC and T58, all coming at WGCs, a major or the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He’s running out of time from avoiding his first winless season since his rookie campaign.
That’s not to say he hasn’t been in the mix. McIlroy has a runner-up finish complementing five top-10s in an elite, and also abbreviated, schedule of just 16 events in 2017. His PGA Tour stats show a down putting year (140th strokes gained) but his ball striking has been as good as ever (eighth tee to green, third off the tee).
A stigma around McIlroy suggests he tends to phone it in at regular season events, but I envision him coming out strong in search of momentum heading into the offseason.