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 And Another Thing

Like it or not Rory's the story

As you read this, it may well be early March. Spring is in the offing, winter greens and temporary tees will soon be merely an unwelcome memory. The prospects for golf are good.

Forgive me, then, for dragging you back into January. What a month that was for the world’s No. 1 golfer, Rory McIlroy. He was seldom out of the headlines even though on the course he only managed two competitive rounds: 75-75 in Abu Dhabi. He missed the cut.

The new year was barely underway before he was in the news for clarifying the situation (or muddying the waters?) regarding his participation in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Having earlier suggested that he’d prefer to play for Team GB rather than Ireland, he then said that a non-appearance might be the outcome.

“I feel Northern Irish and obviously being from Northern Ireland you have a connection to Ireland and a connection to the UK,” he explained. “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 the three options I’m considering very carefully…I don’t want to repay [my fans] for their support with something they don’t want me to do.”

It’s a shame but he’s surely right. Choose to represent either team and he’s guaranteed to upset and disappoint a lot of people. One wonders if that was why of the ten candidates in the final running to be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year last December, McIlroy was the only one not to appear even on film in recognition of his nomination; to do so would effectively have been declaring himself British. Of course, Graeme McDowell might be faced with the same dilemma eventually, but he’s not the world No. 1 so all the focus on this subject is directed at Rory.

Before the week was out, he was all over the papers again. “Congrats to Tom Watson, 2014 US Ryder Cup captain,” he posted on Twitter. “I would love to see Paul McGinley go up against him as European captain at Gleneagles!”

This also meant, of course, that he wouldn’t love to see Darren Clarke or Colin Montgomerie, the other two names in the ring, get the job, although he later advocated that Clarke should get it in 2016. And you would have to figure his opinion was influential. Later Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose also tweeted their support for McGinley but it was his fellow Ulsterman, now golf’s main man, whom McGinley acknowledged had seen him home, being in the forefront of an emphatic display of player power that the committee could not ignore.

Before the confirmation of McGinley’s triumph in Abu Dhabi there was McIlroy’s press conference and unveiling as a new Nike ambassador. His contract is worth an estimated $150 million for a 10-year period, although there are doubtless bonus payments and various incentives built into the deal, which will unquestionably be financially lavish, albeit it suits both McIlroy and Nike to talk up its value. Then, as mentioned previously, his first outing with his new gear was not what had been envisaged. What’s more, it took him only one round to jettison the Nike putter and revert to his Scotty Cameron model. But the trusty blade couldn’t cure his rusty game and doubtless he’ll be wielding a Nike putter again soon once he returns to competition.

One can’t read anything into one missed cut that came after a layoff of several weeks but golf is a game of delicate margins, especially when one is talking about the rarefied level occupied by players such as McIlroy and Tiger Woods, now the second-ranked golfer in the Nike stable.

(Oh, he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi as well.) Even for someone as gifted as Rory, the equipment change may take some assimilation. Perhaps best not to bet too heavily on him winning the Grand Slam this year.

McIlroy turns 24 in May. Woods turned 37 in December. With 14 major championships to his name, he requires five more to pass Jack Nicklaus’s tally of 18. Nicklaus won his last four majors – completing a third career Grand Slam in the process – after his 38th birthday. On that basis, Woods has time to get there but the fact is that he hasn’t won one since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines. Coincidentally, it was at Torrey Pines a week after Abu Dhabi that Woods won his 75th PGA Tour title, at the Farmers Insurance Open. He only needs eight more of those to pass Sam Snead’s record of 82. Unlike the majors’ mark, he looks a shoo-in to pass that.

Whatever, as Rory is discovering, inhabiting the territory that used to be solely Tiger’s domain means you are never out of the spotlight.

March 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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