Rory McIlroy said last year he would return to play in the Travelers Championship. No one knew for sure how soon that would be.
That answer came Wednesday morning when McIlroy, the eighth-ranked player in the world, committed to play in this year's event June 21-24 at TPC River Highlands. He tied for 17th place last year.
"I made the comment after last year's tournament that I would definitely be back, and I'm delighted that my 2018 schedule will allow me to do that," said McIlroy in a statement released by the tournament. "I love everything about the Travelers Championship: the golf course, the positive impact it has on the community and the support we receive from the fans."
This is the earliest the tournament has announced a commitment since Travelers took over title sponsorship in 2007. It beats McIlroy's commitment last year on Feb. 24.
Travelers tournament director Nathan Grube said he had good feelings all along that McIlroy, who finished second last weekend at the Dubai Desert Classic, would be back in 2018. Sean O'Flaherty, McIlroy's agent, indicated to the tournament last week that it would likely happen.
"When (McIlroy) was here, when there were no cameras around, he said, 'These crowds are amazing, so energetic and enthusiastic,'" Grube said. "After the holidays, we felt really good he would come in '18. We thought (McIlroy would commit) in late February again. We didn't expect it to happen in January.
There is no obligation for McIlroy, a four-time major champion, to fulfill. The PGA Tour players passed a rule beginning last year for the golfers to select a tournament they haven't played in over the course of four years. Both McIlroy and Jordan Spieth chose to play Travelers over many other tournaments.
"This isn't normal to have a player release of Rory's caliber when there is still snow on the ground," Grube said
Grube said ticket sales "increased significantly" after McIlroy's commitment last year. "I'm curious if it will have the same impact. With the number of emails I received this morning, I'm assuming to see a good pace as well."
Grube is hopeful Spieth will return to defend his title.
"Rory had a lot of positive things to say about the course experience and Jordan said the same things," Grube said. "We feel pretty good about having our defending champ back, but it's January."
It was Spieth's hole-out from a bunker on the 18th hole at TPC River Highlands that won the sudden-death playoff over Daniel Berger. It also helped Travelers earn the "Tournament of the Year" award from the PGA Tour. It also won the tour's "Most Fan Friendly Event" and "Best Sales."
Travelers also won the inaugural "Players Choice" award. Players had to vote for one tournament that encompassed amenities, service, hospitality, community support and attendance.
"The players chose us, honestly something as a community we should be humbled by," Grube said. "When Travelers invites players here, we feel like we are inviting them into our home. That's how Travelers treats this tournament."
This article is written by Joe Morelli from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.