Rory McIlroy opts to play for Ireland at the 2016 Olympics

Rory McIlroy has announced he intends to play for Ireland at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.

McIlroy, 25, from Northern Ireland, was eligible to play for Great Britain or Ireland and his choice has been the subject of ongoing speculation.

At one stage, McIlroy said he might not participate to avoid offending anyone.

"I have been thinking about the decision a lot and remembered all the times I represented Ireland as an amateur," he said on Wednesday.

"I've played for Ireland my whole life and there's no reason to change that now - it's just a continuation of what I've done.

Golf at the 2016 Rio Olympics

  • In both the men's and women's event, the top 15 world-ranked players will be eligible for selection, regardless of the number of players from a given country.
  • Outside the top 15, players will be eligible based on world ranking with a maximum of two players from each country.
  • The competition will follow a 72-hole individual stroke play format and, in the event of a tie for either first, second or third place, a three-hole play-off will determine the medal winners.

"It's a decision I feel comfortable with and I'll be proud to represent Ireland in 2016.

"I'm 100% sure it's the right decision for me and I hope people respect my decision."

McIlroy revealed his decision on the eve of the Irish Open, which is being played at Fota Island in County Cork.

"Just because now that I'm playing golf for money and I'm a professional, I'm supposed to have this choice or this decision to make, where if you look at the rugby players, you look at cricketers or hockey players, they view Ireland as one, the same as we do in golf.

"I don't think there's any point to change that or go against that just because it's a different event or it's the Olympics."

The golfer, from Holywood in County Down, has twice played in the World Cup for Ireland - both times alongside fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.

He is one of the biggest stars in the game and won the US Open in 2011 and the US PGA Championship a year later.

"Just looking at the reaction on Twitter, it seems to have gone down very well. I think people understand it was a difficult decision for him and, from what I've seen, there's been little hostility. Had he decided to represent Team GB, perhaps there would have been more hostility.

"Golf breathes a huge sigh of relief because what golf didn't want was one of its biggest stars standing aside from the Olympics, so they'll be very pleased that he's made the decision and put out this signal of intent."

McIlroy hit the headlines earlier this year when he broke off his engagement to Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

Just days later he won the lucrative BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the flagship tournament of the European Tour.

"I think it's great that he's put it to bed at last," said McIlroy's compatriot McDowell.

"I think it was a contentious, complicated, complex issue that I suppose could have been settled very quickly with a straight answer. I'm glad that he's committed and I'm hoping to be there alongside him.

"There's no doubt he'll be there. I just have to keep my game ticking over and hopefully I'll be there, as well.

"We are in a very unique scenario in Northern Ireland. We could easily declare for Great Britain or we could easily declare for Ireland. We have all-Ireland teams and we have sports which are split; obviously soccer is two teams and rugby is one team.

"To me, golf is always an all-Ireland sport. I grew up wanting to wear the green blazer with a shamrock on it and have a green golf bag with the Ireland logo on it. So it makes sense that the best players in Ireland, whether it be north or south of the border, should want to represent Ireland in the Olympic Games."

Golf is being played at the Olympics for the first time since 1904, having been voted in along with rugby sevens by the International Olympic Committee in 2009.