AKRON, Ohio — Rory McIlroy, your United States Open champion, may be coming to America.
McIlroy, 22, did a surprising about-face Wednesday before the Bridgestone Invitational, saying he is “leaning toward” taking up PGA Tour membership again. He dropped his PGA Tour membership after last season, in part because he was required to play 15 events.
He sounds like he’s serious, too. He’s going to check out some Florida real estate after he plays in next week’s PGA Championship. First, he’ll stay at the home of former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, also from Northern Ireland. McDowell lives at Lake Nona, a swank development near the Orlando airport. McIlroy also said he was going to look at West Palm Beach and Jupiter.
Andy Pazder, a PGA Tour executive vice president and chief of Tour operations, said there are no restrictions to prevent McIlroy from rejoining the Tour for 2012. McIlroy simply has to inform the Tour of his decision within 30 days of the final tournament, the Children’s Miracle Network event at Disney World in late October.
“Yeah, I’m definitely looking at coming back and playing a full schedule here,” McIlroy said. “I’m leaning towards taking my card up. I feel as if I play my best golf over here, and I’m very comfortable in this country.”
Asked what made him rethink playing in the U.S., McIlroy joked, “Probably the Open.”
After finishing seven over and tied for 25th at the windswept British Open at Royal St. George’s, a frustrated McIlroy expressed his preference for American playing conditions. He echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.
“I thought about it and feel as if my game really suits the courses over here,” McIlroy said. “I love Quail Hollow, Memorial, Akron. You have the Match Play, Honda, Doral, the Masters. Most of my favorite events seem to be on this side of the pond. I’d like to give it a go again and obviously last more than one year and really see how it goes.”
Long-time Memorial Tournament observers will get a chuckle out of McIlroy’s looking forward to the Memorial, which has been plagued by rain and storms.
McIlroy is not enthusiastic about the FedEx Cup race and schedule, with the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship back to back and the FedEx Cup playoffs starting two weeks later.
“That was pretty tough,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard to keep it going for that length of time. It’s something you just have to accept.”
Last May, McIlroy was notably absent from The Players, the Tour’s flagship event. Asked about returning, McIlroy said, “I haven’t thought about that but most likely, yeah, I probably will.”
The return of McIlroy would come at a key time as the PGA Tour prepares to negotiate a new round of contracts with its television partners. The current six-year deal expires after next season.
“Rory is an immense talent,” Pazder said. “To win the Open by eight, he captivated a lot of U.S. fans and people around the world. To have him on our Tour is very significant, if it works out.”
An additional factor may be his love life. McIlroy got back together briefly with his long-time girlfriend earlier this summer but then broke up again and is reportedly dating pro tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, ranked No. 1 in the world.
So what do you do if you live in a small town in Northern Ireland (Holywood) and you famously break up with a local girl who had been living with you and you don’t want to run into her around town? Move to another continent.
Earlier this year, McIlroy’s manager, Chubby Chandler, had insisted that McIlroy wouldn’t consider PGA Tour membership until the Tour cut its minimum tournament requirement from 15. “If they want Rory, the number will have to be reduced,” Chandler said.
Perhaps not. On Wednesday, it sounded as if McIlroy has already made up his mind.