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By The Sports Xchange January 9, 2013 9:20 PM
The 23-year-old from Holywood, Northern Ireland, the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings, is torn between playing for Ireland or Great Britain. He is eligible to compete for either team. "I just think being from where we're from, we're placed in a very difficult position," McIlroy said in a BBC documentary. "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." In September, McIlroy indicated that he might play for Great Britain, saying he "always felt more British than Irish." However, after a bit of a backlash in Ireland, he was forced to backtrack a few days later and said he has not made a decision, calling it "an extremely sensitive and difficult position." McIlroy has teamed with Graeme McDowell in recent years to form the Northern Ireland team in the World Cup of Golf. --Jordan Spieth, who turned pro in December after a brilliant amateur career, has received sponsor's exemptions from the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February and the Puerto Rico Open in March on the PGA Tour, and the Web.com Tour's season opener in Panama at the end of next month. The 19-year-old Spieth, a first team All-American at Texas last year as a freshman after helping the Longhorns capture the NCAA Championship, left in the middle of his sophomore year. Non-members of the PGA Tour can receive up to seven sponsors' exemptions per season. Spieth, who represented the United States in the 2012 Walker Cup matches and was the top-ranked amateur in the world for a time, hopes to at least earn a spot in the Web.com Finals in August. Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup points list and Nos. 1-75 on the Web.com Tour money list earn spots in the Finals. Spieth made the cut in five of eight PGA Tour starts he played as an amateur, with his best finish coming when he tied for 16th at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship at age 16. Last summer, he was low amateur in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, finishing in a tie for 21st. --Bubba Watson has signed a contract with Oakley Inc. to wear the company's performance golf apparel. Getting Watson, who previously wore clothes made by Travis Mathew, was a big catch for Oakley, which late last year lost McIlroy. "I'm proud to join their family because they love the game and they never stop pushing technology to make the game better," Watson said. "Oakley gets it. Whatever they can do, whatever can be done, Oakley will do it. I respect that." Oakley officials expect the popular Watson to be an effective spokesman for the brand, especially after claiming his first major championship last year at the Masters. "He is a Masters champion who fuels excitement with amazing drives and unbelievable shot making, and his personality brings a whole new flavor to the game," said Scott Bowers, senior vice president of global marketing and brand development at Oakley. Watson wore Oakley gear for the first time last week in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. --Jaime Ortiz-Patino, who commissioned the course at Valderrama and was a key figure in the growth of golf in Spain, died last week at age 82. Born to Bolivian parents in Paris, Ortiz-Patino enlisted Robert Trent Jones to design Valderrama in the mid 1980s and was able to lure the Ryder Cup there in 1997, the first time the competition has been held in Europe outside of the British Isles. "Jaime Ortiz-Patino ... passed away this morning in the Costa del Sol hospital in Marbella," the Spanish golf federation said in a statement on its website (www.rfeg.es). "All the members of the Spanish golf federation would like to express their deepest condolences to family and friends. Rest in peace." Valderrama was the home course of the Volvo Masters between 1988 and 1996, and from 2002 to 2008. It also hosted the WGC-American Express Championship in 1999 and 2000, and the Andalucia Masters in 2010 and 2011. Known as "Jimmy" to his friends, Ortiz-Patino, amassed a collection of golf memorabilia that captured the history of the game over 500 years. It included clubs, balls, prints, books and manuscripts, ceramics, photographs and paintings and was auctioned at Christie's in London last year. --PGA Tour officials worked the Hyundai Tournament of Champions without a contract last week and apparently will do so until an agreement is reached, according to the Golf Channel. Officials worked through 2012 on an extension of an earlier contract, before negotiations for a 2013 deal reached an impasse because the PGA Tour and the union disagreed over many issues, including compensation and retirement plans. "We're operating without an agreement as of Dec. 31," said Christian Dennie, an attorney with Fort Worth-based Barlow Garsek & Simon, which represents the officials' union. "They are (in Hawaii) right now and unless the Tour says otherwise they are going to work. These guys really take their job seriously, and we're going to try and help them as much as we can." PGA Tour officials, who are paid considerably less than MLB, NHL, and NBA referees, expect to gain support from PG Tour players, according to the report. Officials with five years of service are paid $103,000, less than officials with similar levels of service in MLB ($133,000), the NBA ($124,000) and the NHL ($202,000). "Like we do with other negotiations, we don't comment on the status of those discussions," said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's executive vice president of communication and international affairs. PGA Tour players are expected to back the officials in part because of officiating controversies at the 2011 and 2012 PGA Championships, which is administered by the PGA of America and does not use PGA Tour officials.