McDowell rejects chance to take McIlroy's Rio spot

Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, has turned down the chance to take fellow Irishman Rory McIlroy's place in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Graeme McDowell joins a growing list of golfers who have withdrawn from the Olympics in Rio.   -  AP

Graeme McDowell has turned down the chance to take fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy's place in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 2010 US Open champion becomes the latest in a long list of high-profile golfers to pull out of the Games, as he was next in line to compete for the Irish team after McIlroy's withdrawal over concerns about the Zika virus.

McDowell, 36, insisted that he had already decided against competing in Brazil as his wife is pregnant and due to give birth around the same time as the Games. "I woke yesterday morning to the news that Rory McIlory had withdrawn from the Irish Olympic Golf team, putting me in line for an automatic spot on the team," said McDowell in a statement on Twitter.

"As many within golf will know my wife Kristin is pregnant and is due to have our second child just a couple of weeks after the Olympic Golf competition concludes.

"I made the decision many months ago, before I was on the team, that I would not play or travel outside the US, where I and my family live, in the weeks running up to the birth.

"Unfortunately I will therefore not be available to replace Rory on the team. I have informed Paul McGinley and the Olympic Council of Ireland of my decision."

Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington is currently the next-highest ranked Irish golfer, and if he stays in that position in two weeks' time then his position in the team alongside Shane Lowry will be confirmed. "Based on the current ranking points I am next in line for automatic selection to the Irish Olympic Team for Rio 2016," Harrington said in a statement released by the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).

"I will work very hard over the next few weeks to achieve this selection as it would be a huge honour for me to represent Ireland at the Olympic Games, having played an active role in golf's bid to be re-included in the Olympic Games programme."

The Olympic golf competition has already been hit by a series of withdrawals, with 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia and South Africa's 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen pulling out over scheduling concerns.

Other major champions skipping the Olympics include former world number one Vijay Singh of Fiji and Oosthuizen's compatriot Charl Schwartzel. The OCI was keen to stress its understanding for McDowell's decision given the personal reasons behind it.

"The Olympic Council of Ireland respects the decision taken by Graeme McDowell to make himself unavailable for consideration for the Irish Olympic Golf Team," the OCI added. "In particular, we are very fortunate to have a global star in Padraig Harrington who is now in contention for automatic selection for Rio 2016."

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