Rory McIlroy became the biggest name to date to announce that he would not compete in the men's Olympic golf tournament. And it might open the flood gates for others to decide Rio is not for them.
The world No. 4, who had flip-flop-flipped on the issue, announced his decision Wednesday after talking with his fiancee, Erica Stoll, and the rest of his family about the potential risks of Zika virus.
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“I’ve come to realize that my health and my family’s health comes before anything else," McIlroy said in a statement. “Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take.”
After a labored process, McIlroy had chosen to represent the Republic of Ireland in the 60-player men's Olympic golf tournament. As players began dropping out of consideration, in May, McIlroy said at the Wells Fargo Championship that this rash of dropouts could negatively impact the sport's future in the Olympic program.
However, after winning the Irish Open, McIlroy expressed some reservation about the potential spread of Zika while in Brazil. His fears seemed assuaged when he spoke at the Memorial Tournament before the U.S. Open.
“Even if I do contract Zika, it’s not the end of the world,” he said then.
However, McIlroy has apparently settled on not competing.
The International Golf Federation, the Olympics-recognized governing body of the sport in the Games, issued a statement after McIlroy's announcement: "The IGF is disappointed with Rory’s decision but recognizes that some players will have to weigh personally a unique set of circumstances as they contemplate their participation in golf's historic return to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with the Zika virus foremost among them. It is unfortunate that the Zika virus has led to Rory's decision to withdraw from the Olympic Games, knowing how much he was looking forward to taking part. As we have stated before, the Olympics is the world's greatest celebration of sport and we remain excited about golf's return after a 112-year absence. It will truly be a special occasion for our sport and we are confident that the 60 men and 60 women who will represent their respective countries will find it an experience they will cherish forever."
On Thursday, McIlroy's countryman, Graeme McDowell, said he will not take McIlroy's place on the Irish team. McDowell's wife is pregnant with the couple's second child and due in September, and he was next in line to represent the republic.
"I made the decision many months ago, before I was on the team, that I would not play or travel outside the U.S., where my family and I live, in the weeks running up to the birth," McDowell said. "Unfortunately, I will therefore not be available to replace Rory on the team. I have informed (Irish Olympic golf captain) Paul McGinley and the Olympic Council of Ireland of my decision."
McIlroy and McDowell join Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Vijay Singh and Tim Wilkinson as players who have pulled out. No female players of significance have made a similar announcement.
More names could be coming. World No. 1 Jason Day appears to be leaning toward not competing, saying at PGA Championship media day on Wednesday that he plans to have more children with wife Ellie. Danny Willett has expressed reservations. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler have said they're looking closely at the situation as well.
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