Former World No 1 Rory McIlroy will return to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October before taking a break to allow nagging injuries to heal. The Northern Irishman is going to play all of the FedEx Cup play-off events on the PGA Tour in defence of his overall title there, play the Dunhill with his father Gerry as his partner and then shut it down for 2017. McIlroy has been battling a stress fracture in a rib all season which caused him to miss a number of events. He admitted at the PGA Championship earlier this month that the injury as still bothering him and wasn't sure if he'd play again this season after Quail Hollow. However he entered the first of the play-off events, the Northern Trust Open in New York, and confirmed yesterday he'll play all four weeks of the competition if he qualifies, and then also the Dunhill. Rory has been a regular attender at the Dunhill since he first secured his European Tour playing card with a third-place finish in his professional debut in the event as an 18-year-old in 2007. A crunched schedule and injuries means he has not played the event over the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns since 2014, when he finished tied second behind surprise winner Oliver Wilson. McIlroy added that his friend Harry Diamond will continue as his caddie through the play-offs and that he will address a permanent replacement for the ousted JP Fitzgerald over the winter.
You can pick your friends, but not your family. Team Europe are desperately distancing themselves from an incendiary article penned by Danny Willett’s brother which described American golf fans as “cretins”. Published in National Club Golfer magazine, the article by Pete Willett – whose tweets around the time of his younger brother’s Masters victory brought some admiration and attention on social media – says that the European team need to “silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer”. He goes on to describe them as “fat, stupid, greedy, classless” and underline “the need to silence these cretins quickly”. Willett senior’s writings are clearly designed to be humorous, but the article doesn’t so much overstep the mark but leap it in one bound. European captain Darren Clarke is far from amused and said Willett was chewing out his brother. “It’s not what Danny thinks, it’s not what I think, and it’s not what Team Europe stands for,” said Clarke. “Danny’s bitterly disappointed and he will express his displeasure to his brother about it. “The fans could not have been nicer to us this week and hopefully that continues. The article was beyond our control, and it’s Danny’s brother’s opinion, not Danny’s or ours.” Willett senior didn’t seem to take his brother’s disappointment too seriously, however, later tweeting “sorry to any American followers but I mean every word”. US captain Davis Love III said he was aware of the article, but didn’t plan to even read it. “I took (New England Patriots) Coach Bill Belichick’s advice; ignore the noise,” he said. “If I read it, I’m going to get mad. So I just ignore it.” The American skipper wants a loud and partisan crowd at Hazeltine, but not one that oversteps the mark. “They’re golf-starved up here, and these people are so nice,” he said. “Fans at a home event, here and in Europe, just get into it and a big part of home advantage is the fans. “But we have to keep them going. It got quiet at Medinah on the Sunday, didn’t it? That was scary. We have to make birdies, we have to win holes.”
I suppose you’ve got to admire a man for sticking to his word. About a year ago Adam Scott announced he had no interest in competing in golf’s return to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this August. Any cajoling, blandishments and more strident attempts to get the Australian to change his mind over the past 12 months have proved fruitless as he announced last week he was sticking to his guns. No sooner had we digested the cousin Adam’s statement confirming his absence from the Games than Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa also announced that he wouldn’t be going to Rio. Vijay Singh, another major champion, is also set to decline the opportunity to play for Fiji. I think Scott, Oosthuizen and Singh (actually strike Vijay, I don’t really care what he thinks about anything anymore) are dead wrong, as are any out there now wavering on the edge of pulling out, as no doubt a few are. This is not borne of any great desire to see golf in the Olympics at all, at least not in the format which is proposed for Rio. I’m not exactly agog with excitement of another restricted field 72-hole strokeplay event. The format proposed for Rio is profoundly unsatisfactory. The shoehorning of the Olympic event into golf’s already crunched schedule is a significant issue for the tours and the players. The International Golf Federation and the tours, with considerable input from the IOC, have had several years to put together a reasonable format and failed utterly, due to the usual blend of diplomatic compromise and the innate dodginess of the entire Olympic administrative process. But it is what it is. And the worth of the Olympic Golf tournament for the sport is perfectly plain; it’s a vehicle to promote golf to areas the game can’t currently reach. Golf’s attempts to promote itself beyond its own narrow confines - the moneyed middle classes, mostly - has utterly failed. Participation is down, and the game’s current demographic, as we harp on about in T2G almost every week, is downright frightening for the future. We’ve just had what many would regard as golf’s biggest annual vehicle for promoting itself globally, the Masters tournament. And what does it show golf as? An ultra-exclusive club for multi-millionaires, with fussy, antiquated standards of behaviour that sometimes border on primary school discipline. Furthermore, for three days of that tournament the organisers are arrogant enough to insist that millions around the world can’t see what’s happening by refusing to allow broadcasters the right to show play for hours on end. Golf people love the Masters. I love the Masters. But it does next to nothing to get new people involved in the sport. It’s a four-day long preach to the already converted. The Olympics, on the other hand, will go into living rooms across the world where golf doesn’t go. It’ll open up the purse strings of the many governments across the world who insist on Olympic status before they will support a sport. To me, it’s incumbent for all who qualify for the Olympics to participate. It’s one week out of the season to go and do some good for the sport instead of the individual, who still has all the other 51 weeks to make his or her money. Enhance the status next time There’s a simple solution to fitting the Olympics into golf’s packed schedule, while enhancing its status so we don’t get self-interested players pulling out. Simply give the Olympic competition WGC status. Once every four years, either Doral, the Bridgestone or Shanghai is replaced by the Olympic event, with full ranking points. Loch Lomond still has that aura This weekend Dundonald Links was confirmed as the venue for the 2017 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. The excellent Kyle Phillips designed neo-links near Irvine, which already hosts the Scottish Ladies’ Open, is being tweaked to take out a few idiosyncracies and a new modern clubhouse built. Dundonald is owned by Loch Lomond Golf Club, the former host of the Scottish until 2010. After the Scottish left, the big gates of the old Colquhoun estate clanged shut as the club sorted itself out from near receivership with a member buyout. The club’s future is now secure, and they are hinting at opening up those gates again, inviting some members of the media back last week, as if to say, undemonstratively,“we’re still here”. It hasn’t changed a bit. There’s no better inland setting for golf in Scotland, maybe in the UK. The course remains first class, some holes - the 10th for example - among the very best in this country. The club are taking tentative steps to ending their self-imposed isolation. It should have an event again; the Scottish got huge crowds there and has never quite recaptured them in its links venues of late. People loved to go to Loch Lomond, it was the closest anyone has got to that overused promotional claim “the Augusta of Scotland”. Here’s hoping.
David Drysdale has had some Dunhill adventures down the years, but the ever-consistent Scot comes in this year more relaxed about his prospects than most visits. At 49th on the Race to Dubai, "Double D" is thinking about qualification for the end of season Rolex Series events rather than retaining his card, which seems to be the usual headache when arriving at St Andrews in October. Two years ago, he famously threw away the crutches on the eve of the tournament to finish with a top 10 and save his playing rights for another year. "It was a torn calf and I was playing really well at the time so it came at just such a bad time. "In hindsight, though, maybe the week to 10 days I was on crutches I couldn't do anything other than rest was a good thing. I was refreshed and played well here, as I've done the last few years, to be honest." But he's enjoying the rare privilege of being able to relax and pick his battles in the late season for once. "I've not played all that much recently, which is down to the position I'm in on the Race to Dubai this season compared to the last couple of years," he said. "My game was maybe not as sharp as it could have been at Close House due to that, though I only missed the cut by one in Portugal, where the course set up was disappointing. "I should only need to stand up and play half decent to get into the Tour Championship but obviously I am aiming my sights a bit higher than that. "I always enjoy the Dunhill Links then we've got the Italian Open, a Rolex Series event, and I always love playing at Valderrama.” As for this week, it’s always been good for Drysdale. "St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, you can't get any better than that for a tournament, can you?” he said. “It tells you something about the quality of the courses if Kingsbarns is regarded as the lesser of the three!"
Arnold Palmer won his last major 52 years ago. If the eulogies for him on his death at 87 puzzle you, that bare statistic isn’t going to help. The importance of Palmer to golf, unlike his friend Jack Nicklaus, unlike his admirer Tiger Woods, cannot be measured in trophies, although he won his share. Instead Palmer has to be measured in his influence, maybe a tough thing to properly understand half a century down the line. It was partly timing. Arnie was the first golfing star of the TV age, a charismatic, bold – sometimes reckless – player. They say he sold a million colour TV sets in the US as golf went big on the small screen in the late 1950s and early 60s. From a modest background and not afraid to admit it, he took golf out of the country club cul-de-sac and made it fit for popular, mass-audience consumption. In Britain, we have great cause to celebrate Arnie because it’s fairly clear that he saved the Open Championship from being a novelty sideshow when he came in 1960 to St Andrews for the Centenary Open. The old championship was failing badly and almost irrelevant until Arnie changed that. He won it in 1961 and 1962, the modern Grand Slam was properly formed, and Nicklaus and the rest followed him across the Atlantic every July. He deserves our eternal gratitude for that. He deserves our admiration for a great, full, and long life, well lived.
Dougie Fife wouldn’t swap a cold Saturday night in Edinburgh in April for the sunshine of the Gold Coast as an indication of how he’s restarted his career. The wing could have been forgiven for being wistful tomorrow morning when the Scotland 7s squad he was part of for two seasons go in search of a Commonwealth Games medal. But Fife was reclaimed by Richard Cockerill for Edinburgh and he’s grabbed the chance to re-establish himself in 15s. “It’s still a tough question, but I’m back with Edinburgh now,” he said, preparing for the meeting with Scarlets at Murraytfield that could book Edinburgh’s unexpected PRO14 play-off place. “It would have been awesome to be part of the Commonwealth Games but that’s where I am, I’m enjoying being back here. We’re lucky to be in a good position to do something special this year. “Even when guys pulled out injured after Hong Kong, I knew I wasn’t going (to rejoin the 7s). I was told a while ago that was not my focus anymore.” He’ll be watching avidly however as the Scots play their pool games in the Games tomorrow, with the crunch game against South Africa looking like the one that will decide whether the Scots can get a medal. “That would obviously be the big game, you’ve got to top that pool which is a bit different compared with the World Series where the top two go through (to the quarter-finals),” he said. “They’ve had that week together at Hong Kong, and I think it’s good that they did that and not just taken a team to the Gold Coast. “At the start of the year the talk was all that with the World Series, the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup it was a massive year for 7s. “We had a few Commonwealth Games open days with all the other athletes. It’s something different, something special being in that multi-sport environment, so it will be brilliant for the boys who are involved and fingers crossed they do well.” For Fife, 7s was the springboard back to a pro contract after he was shipped out of Edcinburgh under the previous coaching regime. “I wasn’t getting game time, and to take a chance to do that for a year I couldn’t turn it down, but Edinburgh wasn’t an option at the time,” he said. “But when I was there it was nothing to do with development, we were there to win tournaments. We’ve saw that when we got to the end of the season at the big tournaments like the London tournament when we had a performance group, the older guys were there to win. “But you do see younger guys coming through, which has been brilliant. Guys are on the edge of potential being 15s players if they want it, but I know they love their sevens.” Back at Edinburgh, Fife and his team mates are determined not to let the second chance to book a play-off place go by after last week’s loss to Ulster. “We let ourselves down at the weekend where we were all really gutted about that, but luckily we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’ve got another shot to push Scarlets for second place and hopefully get away from Ulster in third,” he added. “They’re obviously one of the form teams in Europe, in the semi-final of the Champions Cup, and you saw in the Six Nations, pretty much 90 per cent of their back line was gone, a lot of their forwards were gone but they’ve kept that form. “Any squad they bring up I’m sure they’ll be pretty talented and could cause problems if we don’t turn up.”
Those Lions enthusiasts who let their devotion get the better of them will no doubt treasure the admittedly wonderful try their team scored in the first test as they clutch at the few straws available. But the truth is that but for that score and a brief spell after half-time, the chasm between Warren Gatland’s side and New Zealand was cavernous. That little period may be the Lion’s only window of opportunity in this test series, and it quickly slammed shut. Until Liam Williams decided to run from his 22 like Phil Bennett, the Lions’ attacking game was basically Conor Murray’s Munster-dull diet of high kicks. The All Blacks hadn’t exactly dealt with them adeptly, but they were happy to take the possession and attack with purpose. Their pressure was overwhelming and it seemed in the first half hour that the Lions were collapsing. 10-0 was no real return for New Zealand’s dominance. But with Ryan Crotty, the defensive captain, injured and the backline recast to accommodate Aaron Cruden as well when Ben Smith went off, the All Blacks were vulnerable, at least for 15 minutes either side of half-time. The try the Lions did score when Williams showed Cruden his heels was breathtaking, but the two similar chances forged through the full back again and then Anthony Watson in the second half went to ground. The last chance was when Peter O’Mahony chose a kick to the corner at 13-8 and the Lions inexplicably called a throw to the front; the maul was easily defended and the opportunity was gone. After that New Zealand solved their defensive issues and the Lions barely had a sniff. Twice in the game the tourists dropped their intensity in the European way when a penalty was given against them, expecting the opposition to take the easy kick at goal, while Aaron Smith sharply tapped and the All Blacks’ peerless hands turned a certain three points into seven. It was actually very similar to Wales’ tour to New Zealand last year; the tourists not entirely disgraced but well beaten. 3-0 was the end of that tour; hard to see anything else coming from this one.
Dave Rennie has been in and won plenty semi-finals before, so Glasgow Warriors fans shouldn’t be concerned with the light atmosphere ahead of Friday’s PRO14 semi with the Scarlets. The Warriors coach led the Chiefs through a play-off run twice in Super Rugby, so filling the three weeks between the 1872 Cup loss and Friday’s game with paintballing, golf and two awards ceremonies – one official one for the fans, one unofficial and kept within the squad – has been aimed at not overloading his team. “We have used the time very well,” insisted Rennie. “We gave the boys a pretty tough first week on the practice pitch then three days off the second week and got a good head start on the Thursday, Friday knowing it was going to be Scarlets. “This week is about fine tuning and making sure we have a full tank for the weekend. You have to be excited by (the play-offs) rather than fear the outcome. “We have made sure we have had a lot of fun over the last few weeks but we have worked hard, and if we go in clear over what are their threats , just go and play and enjoy the occasion, we canlet the scoreboard look after itself.” Scarlets smashed the record that no away side had won in the play-off semis last year in Dublin, but Rennie expects Glasgow’s restored fortress at Scotstoun – new end stands are going up to extend the capacity to a round 10,000 – to be a major factor. “There’s no doubt that statistically we’ve been really strong at home,” he said. “We’ve had 10 games here for 10 wins and nine bonus points - 49 out of 50 - and we haven’t conceded anything here. No team has left with a bonus of any description. “That’s a hell of a record It gives us confidence, but we know it doesn’t guarantee anything. Scarlets are a quality side, defending champions, and I’d imagine they’ll be pretty highly motivated. “I think it will make for a really high quality encounter. They have a positive mindset and so have we.” That positive mindset is reflected in the entire league, believes Rennie, and he was pleased to see both European finals won by PRO14 teams at the weekend. “The great thing about our comp is that it is more positive, three of the four sides in the Champions Cup semis is a positive indicator. “In the end, we have a responsibility to produce the kind of product that people [want to] pay money to sit in the stand and watch. “I think it is a good mix over here. There’s a fair bit of brutality and it’s not just about throwing the ball around. “People back home (in New Zealand) probably don’t watch a lot of PRO14 and don’t realise the quality of teams in it, which has been reflected in Europe this season.” All of the late call-offs for the final 1872 Cup game – Peter Horne, Sam Johnston, Tommy Seymour and Jonny Gray – are fit and available for this week, and Rennie expects his top men to step up. “In big play-off games like this you need every player to front, and every player to fire,” he continued. “The mind set has been great. We are rapt to still be in the race. There are ten teams who are probably drinking a fair bit of alcohol this week but this is where we wanted to be. “Our heads are good and the bodies are good. We have to put that on the park at the weekend.”
Dougie Fife is back in the Edinburgh side for a league game for the first time in a year but Edinburgh head south for their Guinness PRO14 season opener at Cardiff without a clutch of their top stars. Jason Harries and Daryl Marfo will make their Edinburgh debuts at wing and prop respectively but there’s no Robbie Fruean, Phil Burleigh or Hamish Watson in the 23 players who will start the new era under Richard Cockerill at the Arms Park. Cockerill has however recalled Fife, who was a Scotland player just three seasons ago but let go at the end of the 2015-16 season and kept his hand in mostly with the Scotland 7s team on the World Series circuit during last season. Given the transformation the former Leicester and England hooker is charged with making at Edinburgh, it’s a pretty familiar looking lineup for Edinburgh fans. “I’m optimistic,” said the head coach. “The boys have had a good pre-season, but I’m sure everyone is saying the same in that regard. We’ve had a couple of good weeks, we just need to make sure we go and we put our best game out on the field. “Cardiff are a dangerous side, both from their drive in the forward pack and the fact they like to play an unstructured game. They’ve got players that can punish you if you’re inaccurate. “We’ve prepared well, but we just don’t know what to expect until we get into the live scenario. We’re going there to win, that’s our mentality and so it should be. We’re looking forward to it.” Cockerill is doing his best to dampen any unrealistic expectations of how Edinburgh will go, as he aims to introduce international players back into the side gradually. “It’s my first experience of Cardiff and we’ve not won there for the last four years so it’s going to be a challenge for us. We’ve got to have a tough mind-set and it’s important that we get off to a good start and bring some points back. “We’ve got internationals that are coming back in and available and we’ve got guys that have done 11 or 12 weeks of pre-season. “We’ve picked a team which we feel is the right squad, because of the dynamics of bringing international guys back in – some will feature, some won’t. It’s a long season so in the here and now we’ve picked what I think is the best side to go to Cardiff and win.” It’s a team that still includes eight Scotland internationals in the starting 15 and a further three on the bench. Edinburgh team (vs Cardiff Blues, Cardiff Arms Park, tonight ko 7.35pm live on BBC Alba): Blair Kinghorn; Dougie Fife, Chris Dean, Junior Rasolea, Jason Harries; Duncan Weir, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, WP Nel; Anton Bresler, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Ritchie, John Hardie, Magnus Bradbury (captain). Replacements: Ross Ford, Michele Rizzo, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Cornell du Preez, Nathan Fowles, Jason Tovey, Glenn Bryce.
Danny Willett believes his experience of some US fans at Hazeltine proved that his brother Pete’s infamous article was “in fact correct”. The Masters champion suffered a poor weekend at his first Ryder Cup - not winning a point in three matches - which he expressed in blunt terms when asked at the Team Europe press conference in the aftermath of the 17-11 loss to the USA how his first experience of the event had been. “Sh*t,” he said to laughs from his team mates and media. “You want me to elaborate? Really sh*t.” The article by his elder brother – claimed to be “satirical” - described US golf fans as “cretins” and was disowned by Willett and the European team prior to the event starting. However Willett suffered almost constant heckling through the week and tweeted about his “very strange week here at the Ryder Cup” “Tried my best but played poorly...unfortunately some American fans showed that @P_J_Willett was in fact correct,” he tweeted. “Nothing to blame my bad play on..,but still shows that sometimes fans don't know when to call it a day.. Shame really!!” The European team continued to play down the effect of the crowd at Hazeltine and praised the reaction of the US team and the majority of fans. Captain Darren Clarke gave the example of fans policing themselves on the Sunday. “Rory was taking his practice swing on 16 and as he was about to hit it, some guy shouted in the middle of his backswing,” he said. “The whole crowd there turned on the guy and pointed who he was out to security, and that guy was swiftly ejected. All that was all done by the American fans. “It's only the odd person that created this whole thing. While it was unsavoury and not the right thing to do, 99.9 percent of the crowd pointed straight at the guy and he was taken away. “So the crowd deserve a lot of credit for their policing of the situation as well.”