padraig harrington

Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell
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Graeme McDowell follows Rory McIlroy in skipping Olympics

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Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, withdrew from Olympic consideration Thursday, according to his social media, one day after countryman Rory McIlroy did the same.

McDowell’s statement cited his wife being due to give birth to the couple’s second child two weeks after the Olympic men’s golf tournament concludes. Unlike McIlroy, McDowell did not cite the Zika virus.

McDowell also didn’t become eligible for the Olympics until McIlroy withdrew due to caps on the number of players that can qualify per nation.

McDowell, ranked No. 73 in the world, and McIlroy, ranked No. 4, are both from Northern Ireland, but as Northern Ireland does not compete separately at the Olympics, would have played for Ireland.

McDowell and McIlroy are the fifth and sixth major champions to announce they will skip the Olympics, joining Fiji’s Vijay Singh, Australian Adam Scott and South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, who all mostly cited scheduling conflicts.

Without them, the Irish team is slated to be world No. 25 Shane Lowry, who tied for second at last week’s U.S. Open, and world No. 167 Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion.

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Padraig Harrington’s goal to make 2016 Olympics

Padraig Harrington
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Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington‘s hope is to improve more than 300 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking over the next 21 months to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

“I don’t normally tell the media my goals, but I will this time,” he said at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he was in a nine-way tie for the lead during the second round Friday when this post was published. “My aim is to return to the world top 15 by 2016 for the Olympics. It makes no difference where I am in the world now because I’ve got 21 months of results counting from here.”

Harrington, who will be 44 come golf’s return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, was ranked as high as No. 3 in the world around a stretch when he won the 2007 and 2008 British Opens and the 2008 PGA Championship, his last PGA or European Tour victory.

He fell to No. 131 at the end of 2013 and is now No. 324.

Harrington is right that he will likely have to be in the top 15 in the world at the Olympic rankings cutoff on July 11, 2016, to be assured of making Ireland’s team.

He is also right that his current ranking makes little difference when it comes to Olympic qualification, since the Olympic qualification rankings are mostly determined by yet-to-come results from now until July 2016.

The men’s and women’s fields for the 2016 Olympic golf tournaments are set to include 60 players each. Everybody in the top 15 of the world rankings will be eligible up to four per country.

After that, the field will be filled by the next highest-ranked players with a maximum of two players per nation.

If Ireland has two players in the top 15, nobody from Ireland outside the top 15 makes it to Rio.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is from Northern Ireland but will compete for Ireland at the 2016 Olympics, should he qualify, as expected. Same goes for countryman Graeme McDowell, ranked 18th. The top Irishman is No. 55 Shane Lowry.

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Padraig Harrington goes to bat for Rory

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World No. 1 golfer, Rory McIlroy is already threatening to sit out the 2016 Rio Games due to pressure over whether he’ll play for Ireland or Great Britain. Now, champion Irish golfer Padraig Harrington is speaking out for the 23-year-old, saying that the IOC needs to make the call, or else everyone will miss out on Rory’s talents.

“I have massive sympathy as an Irishman and massive sympathy more so as a sportsman,” Harrington told the Belfast Telegraph. “No sportsman should have to make that decision. That’s it, straightforward — nobody at 23 years of age should be asked to make that decision.”

Harrington added that that since golf is returning to the Olympics for the first time in more than a century, it will need the exploits of top young players like McIlroy to drive the storylines, bring in the audience, and prove that their sport belongs on podium along with the rest.

“We have two runs at it and we do, as golfers, have to perform and put our best foot forward, so it would be nice if the world number one is there and he’s supporting the event. It’s an extraordinarily difficult decision. We need our best players to play in the Olympics to show that golf is serious in the Olympics.”