Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy has stoked golf’s Olympic row further by saying he may not even watch the competition in Rio next month because he considers it to be of such little significance.
McIlroy pulled out of the Games citing fears over the Zika virus, a position also adopted by Jason Day and Dustin Johnson – the world’s top two – and 17 other male players – but only one female golfer.
The moves have led to murmurings from golf chiefs about an “overreaction”, while five-time gold medal winner Steve Redgrave has accused players of using Zika as an excuse.
World No3 Jordan Spieth confirmed he had joined the exodus on Tuesday, but insisted his “health concerns” were not limited to Zika and that he had agonised over the decision. McIlroy was less repentant.
“I don’t think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for him,” he said. “I’m very happy with the decision I made and I have no regrets about it. I’ll probably watch the Olympics but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch.”
Pressed on what he would watch, McIlroy added: “Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving – the stuff that matters.”
McIlroy, who is aiming to reclaim the Open Championship at Royal Troon this week, having missed his defence of the Claret Jug through injury last year, denied letting the sport down by snubbing the Games.
“I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game; I got into golf to win championships, and major championships,” said the 27-year-old.
“All of a sudden you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game, and I get that, but at the same time that’s not the reason I got into golf.”
The World Health Organisations has decided not to recommend restrictions on travel to Rio, while the International Olympic Committee this week said that cooler weather would minimise the threat of mosquitoes.
The swathe of late withdrawals from Rio leaves England’s Justin Rose among the favourites for gold, while world No5 Bubba Watson stands to be the highest-ranked entrant in the men’s competition.
Spieth’s health concerns are not limited to Zika – “that’s not the only one,” he said – and led to what the 22-year-old called “probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life”.
“This was harder than trying to decide what university to go to; whether to turn professional and leave school,” he added.
“I will continue to carry it with me through these Games and for a while I think. I’m sure at times I’ll be pretty upset that I’m not down there. I’m a huge believer in Olympic golf and hope to play in four or five in the future. This year I just had to try and weigh a risk that doesn’t present itself every year.”