RORY McIlroy appears to be a sensible chap. A few months after getting down on bended knee on a boat in Sydney Harbour, he broke off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki because he knew it was the right thing to do and instantly reaped the rewards of that decision, with a spectacular second half to last year.
So, why, as the world No 1 prepares to launch his 2015 campaign – he’s spearheading the field in this week’s HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship before also teeing up in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in a fortnight – is he allowing a cloud to hang over his head at the beginning of what could be another memorable year?
I’m referring, of course, to his dispute with former management company Horizon Sports, a parting of the ways that has led to all sorts of accusations flying about ahead of a case due to go to trial in the High Court in Dublin on 3 February. It’s scheduled to last for six to eight weeks, with McIlroy himself expected to be in the witness box for up to a week.
A “court-directed mediation process” failed to determine a settlement, forcing McIlroy to take an enforced break towards the end of last season. With the Race to Dubai virtually in the bag, that wasn’t really a problem, but a trial – one that will be played out in the full glare of the media on both sides of the Atlantic – is a different kettle of fish.
It’s hard to believe, in fact, that McIlroy is allowing it to reach this stage, though, in fairness to him and his advisers, an out-of-court settlement is only possible if the other party finds it acceptable.
Conor Ridge was the man who lured McIlroy from Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler’s ISM stable but has since had a bitter fall-out with the Ulsterman – that Horizon Sports appears to be digging in its heels suggests it is feeling quietly confident. It’s been rumoured that Dermot Desmond, Celtic’s majority shareholder, has advised McIlroy that his case isn’t particularly strong.
An Irish colleague who has been following the events closely said of McIlroy’s thinking or, more relevantly, his legal people: “I guess he’s rolling the dice.
“If he wins and gets the contract rescinded, he could save himself a packet. If he loses, he pays what he was going to have to pay anyway through commission, though the costs are massive at this stage – €3 million each perhaps – and you can add another few million for the trial. My money is on a trial, but if he loses it could cost him €20-€25 million. A settlement would make sense with The Masters looming.”
For golf’s sake, that’s what we want to happen because it would be a crying shame if McIlroy found himself heading to Augusta National in April – bidding to make it three majors in a row and also complete a career Grand Slam – bearing scars of any sort, and that’s likely if he does indeed have a stint in the witness box.
Nothing – I repeat, nothing – should be allowed to stand in McIlroy’s way as he attempts to take up where he left off last season, when a blistering run of form from the end of May through to mid-August saw him become world No 1 again and show an appetite to hang on to this position for an awful long time.
We saw what happened just two years ago when his decision to change equipment didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped straight away and we had to wait until December for his only win of the season in the Australian Open.
That was a reminder that golf is a fickle game and, whether we like hearing it or not, there’s a genuine chance that all the confidence McIlroy built up last season could be drained away by the time the first major of 2015 comes around – if events turn nasty in that court room.
“2013 wasn’t a great year for me,” admitted McIlroy during a Sky Sports’ special screened over Christmas.
“To refind my form in ‘14 is something that means a lot to me and hopefully I can continue that on to next season and beyond. I don’t want to call it a resurrection in any way, but it’s been a huge turnaround in my golf game. It’s been the best year of my career so far and hopefully it is just the start.”
Don’t be surprised if he bursts out of the blocks in Abu Dhabi – he’d have won there last year but for a silly two-shot penalty – then gives a good account of himself in Dubai, too. There’s a feeling, though, that McIlroy’s season could be defined in Dublin over the next few weeks rather than the Middle East.
Clash of quality Scottish events inevitable on crowded calendar
IT’S happening again. As schedules start being confirmed for 2015, there are some unfortunate clashes that will prove a headache for golf scribes and also leave Scottish spectators in a quandary.
Take the last week in July, for example. Being held at the same time will be the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry, the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Matchplay at Murcar Links and the Scottish Amateur Championship at Muirfield.Three events that are all lip-smacking for different reasons, yet will find themselves fighting for space in newspapers and, in the case of the two professional events, fighting for paying customers. That said, they probably attract different audiences and are far enough apart to prevent too much damage being done at the
In an ideal world, of course, such clashes wouldn’t occur. The fact of the matter, however, is that the modern-day golf calendar is more crowded than ever that it’s almost impossible to come up with a schedule that keeps everyone happy.
Also being held in the same week – in this case the last week of June – are the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore and the new PGA EuroPro Tour at Newmachar being supported by the Paul Lawrie Foundation.
That’s a pity as there are a number of players that would have got the chance to compete in both those events, but alternative dates simply didn’t work to keep them apart and staging the Newmachar event is more important to the
players on that circuit than the date it’s actually held.
As has been the case for a number of years now, Scotland has a tournament schedule that is the envy of most mainland European countries. Add in an Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane, an Open at St Andrews and the long-running Dunhill Links Championship and you’ll surely see why.
There’s so much to consider to make all these events happen, so we are just going to have to live with the occasional week when it looks as though madness has been in the mix.