PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. Rory McIlroy said two weeks ago he would not be playing in the World Cup of Golf this year. There is speculation that if he were to represent Ireland at the World Cup, he would be have no choice but to play under the Irish flag in the 2016 Olympics.
But the announcement over the weekend that the World Cup was going to Royal Melbourne this fall under a new format piqued his interest.
Northern Ireland, for the first time, can field its own team.
''That might change things a little bit,'' McIlroy said before leaving the TPC Sawgrass.
Graeme McDowell certainly hopes so.
''I need my partner in crime in Melbourne,'' he said. ''Regardless whether Rory wants to play or not, I want to play this year. If it works, I'd like him to be there, as well. But we'll see.''
McDowell spoke before he was aware of the change in format, and that Northern Ireland can choose to have its own team.
Padraig Harrington smiled when told that Northern Ireland could have its own team. ''It suits me,'' he said. Harrington is the highest-ranked player from Ireland.
The $8 million purse will be divided with $7 million of it for the individual competition (which also provides world ranking points) and $1 million for the team. It will be stroke play, combining the scores of the two-man teams. The field will be capped at 60 players. Countries are allowed no more than four players – provided the additional two are inside the top 15 in the world – but the two players with the highest ranking will be the team. If the cutoff were now, and everyone wanted to play, Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker (No. 5) would represent the United States in the team competition.
Players and countries are selected from the world ranking until the 60-man field is set. There likely will be no more than about 18 teams.
Perhaps the most unusual part of this World Cup? Royal Melbourne will hold two events in successive weeks. The Australian Masters will be Nov. 14-17, followed by the World Cup of Golf on Nov. 21-24.