Could McIlroy choose to opt out of Olympics?

Rory McIlroy plays through dark clouds as storms entered the area during a Tuesday practice round at the Ocean Course.

Rory McIlroy plays through dark clouds as storms entered the area during a Tuesday practice round at the Ocean Course.

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Golf’s return to the Olympic Games could be in line for a setback after World No. 1 Rory McIlroy conceded he might not play in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In a BBC documentary – "Rory: Being Number One" – aired in Northern Ireland on Jan. 3, McIlroy said not participating in the Olympics is a distinct possibility.

"Whatever decision I make, whether that's play for Ireland, play for Britain, not play at all maybe just because I don't want to upset too many people . . .," he said.

Asked if not playing was an option, he said: "For sure it's definitely an option. I've got three options: I either play for one side or the other or I don't play."

McIlroy’s Olympic participation has been under scrutiny because of the sensitive position he finds himself in. Born in Holywood, Northern Ireland, he qualifies for the Great Britain team because Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. However, he also can play for Ireland, which he has done throughout his life.

The Golf Union of Ireland is responsible for the governance of golf in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. As such, McIlroy represented Ireland many times in amateur golf, as did fellow Northern Irishmen Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

McIlroy also has represented Ireland on a professional level. He appeared alongside McDowell as team Ireland in the Omega Mission Hills World Cups in 2009 and 2011.

Given the political situation in the Emerald Isle, McIlroy is in a no-win situation.

"I just think being from where we're from, we're placed in a very difficult position," he said.

'"I feel Northern Irish, and obviously being from Northern Ireland you have a connection to Ireland and a connection to the UK. If I could, and there was a Northern Irish team, I'd play for Northern Ireland.

"Play for one side or the other - or not play at all because I may upset too many people. . . . Those are my three options I'm considering very carefully."

McIlroy has not yet made up his mind, and isn’t likely to do so in the near future. However, he conceded regret at appearing to hint to a newspaper last year that he would play for the Great Britain team.

"It was a moment, I don't want to say of weakness, but a moment of, I guess, frustration with it all," he said.

McIlroy’s dilemma is the last thing the International Golf Federation needs. Golf’s Olympic future is not guaranteed beyond 2016 and 2020. After those two games, the IOC will review golf’s position.

In other words, golf needs to make an immediate impact. That might not be easy to do if one of the game’s brightest stars decides to stay home.

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