McIlroy looks at India even as he defends Hero Dubai Desert Classic

Rory McIlroy (NIR) speaking ahead of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, Emirates Golf Club, Dubai. Picture: Golffile | Fran Caffrey All photo usage must carry mandatory copyright credit (© Golffile | Fran Caffrey)

Dubai, Jan 17: The Hero Dubai Desert Classic is arguably the biggest golfing event in Asia with a legacy of 35 years and a whopping purse of US$ 9 million and defending that title is World No. 2 Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy, a great advocate of taking the game around the world, has won five times in Dubai and in China and Hong Kong besides playing in Australia, Singapore, Japan and Korea in his career. On Wednesday, he touched upon taking elite golf to a new destination – India.

Speaking ahead of the 2024 Hero Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy said, “I spoke to Dr. (Pawan) Munjal (Hero MotoCorp CEO) on the course about it today,” he said on the prospect of the top golfers going to India.

“You know, if this global tour somehow comes to fruition in the next few years, could you imagine bringing the best 70 or 80 golfers in the world to India for a tournament or, you know, that – I think would change the game and the perception of the game in a country like that.

“There’s so much opportunity out there to go global with it. Golf is at an inflection point, and if golf doesn’t do it now, I fear that it will never do it and we’ll sort of have this fractured landscape forever.”

As for him playing in India, he said he had been invited and has talked about it, but added, “But look, with how the golf calendar is at the minute – and that’s the other thing that needs to be looked at. There’s so many different golf tournaments that happen at different times, and it’s going to be very hard for everything to piece together but it’s (India) a country that I’ve never been to and one that I would like to visit at some point in my life.”

That said, the Desert Classic one of the longest running events on the DP World Tour has been a staple of sorts for McIlroy, who turns 35 in May.

In the last 11 of his 13 starts at the Desert Classic, McIlroy has never finished out Top-10 and won three times and been runner-up and third on two other occasions. He also has two wins in the DP World Tour Championships.

“Yeah, it is. I feel like this tournament has been a sort of staple in my life for at least half of it. You know, I’ve been coming back to this tournament for 18 years, so over half my life. So yeah, wonderful memories of Dubai.”

“I’ve always liked kicking my year off here. It’s a familiar place for me, and it’s a really good sort of steppingstone to the rest of the year,” went on McIlroy, who also felt ‘unburdened’ after stepping down from his position on the PGA Tour Policy Board. He said, “My focus is firmly back on stuff inside the ropes, and that is a really nice feeling.”

The Indian challenge, as it has been since 2018, is Shubhankar Sharma, who these days also spends a lot of time practising in Dubai. In six appearances prior to this one, his best has been T-22 in 2021, but he added, “I have done well in Abu Dhabi past two years and was close (Tied-2nd) in 2022. I am playing well, so hopefully I can turn into a good show this week.”

Interestingly, Sharma sponsored a promising Indian junior Kartik Singh for the junior Desert Classic last week and the teenager finished second. Kartik won the junior Invitational event that Sharma supports in India.

McIlroy apart, the field is strengthened by the presence of Brian Harman, the 2023 Open winner, Cameron Young, the 2022 runner-up at the Open, Tommy Fleetwood, the winner last week at Dubai Invitational, three past Ryder Cup captains including two-time Open winner, Padraig Harrington, Thomas. Bjorn and Luke Donald, who will be a repeat captain at 2025 Ryder Cup. The last two Hero Indian Open winners, on either side of the pandemic, Stephen Gallacher (2019) and Marcel Siem (2023) are also in the field are also in this week as are 2017 Open winner, Francesco Molinari, the 2023 DP World Tour Championships winner, Nicolai Hojgaard, multiple Rolex Series winner, Tyrrell Hatton, and the recently chosen Players Player of the Year, Adrian Meronk.

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