Shane Lowry facing Bridgestone dilemma

Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke believes Shane Lowry has a tough decision to make over his WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title defence in 2016 but is in no doubt the European Tour made the right decision not to sanction next year’s prestigious tournament.

The Tour’s incoming chief executive, Keith Pelley, made a statement of intent yesterday in his first week in the role since succeeding George O’Grady when he decided to withdraw his organisation’s co-sanctioning of the World Golf Championship event, won by Ireland’s Lowry on Sunday, after it was moved into a schedule clash with the 2016 French Open. Furthermore, the Tour decided it would not award Ryder Cup qualification points to its members who decided to play the Bridgestone, handing them a dilemma with the battle for places on Clarke’s team in 2016 certain to be heating up next summer.

The source of the problem is the reintroduction of golf into the Olympic Games at Rio in Brazil, with the men’s competition to be held August 11-14.

The date has forced the final major of the year, the PGA Championship, to be brought forward to July 25-31, bumping out the Bridgestone, which has been moved in the PGA Tour schedule to June 27-July 3, the traditional date of the French Open, the oldest national Open Championship in Continental Europe which next year will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

For players with Ryder Cup ambitions to represent Europe at Hazeltine in just over 13 months, that means a difficult decision lies ahead, not least for world number 19 Lowry, who will have pencilled in a Bridgestone title defence as soon as he lifted the trophy at Firestone Country Club last Sunday.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” Lowry said yesterday as he prepared at Whistling Straits for this week’s 2015 PGA Championship. “Obviously it is a year away and the same week as the French Open so I will have to make a decision nearer the time, or at the start of next year when I set out my schedule.

“It is a bit disappointing that it clashed with the French Open though I haven’t played it for three years. It will be hard not to go back and defend (Bridgestone) but it’s a Ryder Cup year and it’s going to be a difficult decision to make for everyone. Who knows what Rory will do, Kaymer, Stenson, Poulter. We will see nearer the date.”

Clarke sympathised with Lowry’s plight but said he was proud at his Tour’s decision to make a stand against the PGA Tour.

“That’s an understandable dilemma,” Clarke said yesterday. “I think next year with the Olympics being back in, we all realise how difficult it has been for scheduling issues.

“It depends what the guys want to do. If they’re close to qualifying on the points list or they’re close to qualifying through Race to Dubai, it’s a tough decision for the guys to make. Especially it’s a tough decision for Shane, he won his first World Golf Championship at Firestone, and he may have a decision to make come next summer.”

Asked if any team hopefuls would seek his advice on which event to play, Clarke was unequivocal. “France. From a European perspective,” he said, before adding: “Difficult decisions have to be made, and I’m proud of the decision of the European Tour has made.”

Clarke, who will play the PGA this week 11 years after leading the championship at Whistling Straits on the major’s first visit to the Wisconsin links-style course by Lake Michigan, praised Lowry for his achievement and backed him to go one step further and win a major.

“He’s very comfortable playing in America. And I think a breakthrough win for him last week is very important for him at this stage of his career. He’s going to gain a massive amount of confidence from it and go forward. I fully expect him to be contending for a Ryder Cup spot next year.

“If he keeps playing the way he did last week, I think he’ll certainly be contending (for a major). You need a few breaks, but certainly he’s got the game to win. After doing what he did last week, I’m sure he will gain a massive amount of confidence. I don’t think there’s anything to get in his way. He needs the right breaks at the right time. And hopefully he’ll add to the list of Irish major winners.”

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